Saturday, July 1

Risky assessment

An article on the ABC News site questioning the effectiveness of imprisoning paedophiles has sparked this rare outburst of blogging.

Three psychiatrists have raised serious concerns about the ongoing detention of convicted paedophiles, saying there is no proof the jail terms reduce rates of sexual assault.

"If we went on public opinion we'd either never release them from prison or impose even more draconian sentences.

"In fact we'd probably impose the death penalty - that's how a lot of people feel."


There’s a commonly used concept called risk assessment. Any hazard, eg abuse of children by a known paedophile, can be assessed for risk by multiplying factors of severity and likelihood of the occurrence.

The higher the risk, the stronger the control needed.

If an offender is assessed as being likely to re-offend then it’s obvious that the best solution is remove the hazard. Which is more important, the liberty of children or the of rock spiders who have cashed in their rights with a lack of self-control? The answer is clear – lock up the offender.

The public might actually be right about this one. The recent assault on the eight-year girl in Perth will have a long-standing effect on people’s freedom and trust. Consider the number of families who will modify their behaviour to counter prospects of this occurring again. The net result is a significant reduction in freedom. Locking up a 21 year-old is a small price to pay.

Imprisonment is effective in that it removes the hazard from the community. The prospect need not be permanent if assessments show there is a limited risk.

If the prospects of rehabilitation are limited by long sentences then let the gaol term be determined by regular re-assessment.

It is rubbish to say that ongoing detention does not reduce the rate of assault. While locked up, they can’t offend – simple!