Judge wants healthy sex courses for offenders
Long delays in sex offenders getting access to "healthy sex" courses have been condemned by England's High Court.
The delays show something has gone "seriously wrong" with the management of prisoners serving indeterminate sentences for public protection (IPPs), said a judge.
Mr Justice Dingemans, sitting in London, highlighted the case of a sex offender facing up to five extra years locked up beyond his IPP tariff before he can get access to the healthy sex programme (HSP) he must complete to show he is fit to be released into society.
The judge said "the enormity of the continuing problem" was indicated by statistics showing that, on September 30 this year, 4,431 prisoners were still serving IPPs - and 3,443 had served the tariff part of their sentences.
He ruled that, despite attempts to solve the problem, the Justice Secretary was "in serious and continuing breach" of his public law duty to provide the systems and resources IPP prisoners needed to demonstrate to the Parole Board "by the time of the expiry of their tariffs or reasonably soon thereafter" that it was no longer necessary to detain them for public protection.
The heavily criticised IPP system was abolished in 2012 but many inmates sentenced earlier are still caught up in the IPP regime.
The tariff part of the sentence represents the period of time they would have served if they had been sentenced to a fixed term.
Today's judgment marks the second time the same judge has criticised the Government over IPPs.
In November last year he first highlighted the problem when he considered applications for judicial review from three inmates - Philip Fletcher, Paul Young and Keith Bentley - who had all served their IPP tariffs.
Fletcher was convicted in 2008 of threatening to kill a child and sentenced to an IPP with a minimum tariff of 20 months.
Young was sentenced in 2009 to an IPP with a three-year tariff for a sexual offence and assault occasioning actual bodily harm.
Bentley, who was nearly 73 years old, had a history of sex offences and was sentenced in August 2007 to an IPP with a tariff of two-and-a-half years.
In his latest ruling, the judge said Fletcher and Bentley had now accessed and completed HSP courses. However Young faced having to wait until April-June 2016.
The judge said: "The fact that it was intended that (Young) should wait up to five years after the expiry of his tariff period before he was provided with access to the HSP course proves that something has gone seriously wrong with the management of prisoners serving IPPs."
The the number of courses had increased considerably and had risen to 105 in October, but despite "all that hard work" matters had not improved for Young.
The judge said the courts had "set their face against indefinite detention by order of the executive" and had to ensure breaches of public law duty were addressed.
In order to ensure that Young was not again neglected and forced to wait further for access to a course, he would be given permission to come back to court if he was not provided with a course in the period April-June 2016.
An NSPCC spokesman said: "It's essential that these dangerous offenders, who have committed some of the worst crimes imaginable, are not released into communities until it is safe to do so.
"There's evidence that therapy in prison can help reduce the risk to children posed by some offenders but there would appear to be a serious shortage of suitable programmes.
"The reality is that most sex offenders will at some point be released so careful monitoring and regular assessment by authorities is vital."