SEX offenders are encouraging one another to re-offend, warns a Huddersfield expert.
They are being allowed to form social groups in bail hostels – and convincing themselves they have done nothing wrong.
Now Dr Carla Reeves is calling on the authorities to provide more hostels so that the sex offenders can be split up from each other.
She argues that probation-approved premises exacerbate the problem, rather than solve it.
She has studied sex offenders, including paedophiles, who spend time in Probation Service hostels after being freed from jail.
She found they are forming social groups which encourage them to believe there was nothing seriously wrong with the behaviour which led to their conviction.
It is the unintended consequence of a policy which concentrates the offenders in hostels well away from schools or areas with large numbers of children.
She has researched the “informal networking” that takes place in hostels and calls for new strategies and training to ensure that sex offenders do not rejoin society without challenging their behaviour, making them less likely to re-offend.
Later in the year Dr Reeves publishes an article on the subject, but she has recently presented her findings and arguments at academic gatherings, including the British Society of Criminology’s latest conference.
She studied dozens of sex offenders staying at hostels.
“The idea is that this is a place where the offenders can be tested out in the community to make sure that they are safe. Any offence-based community programmes that need to be done with them are carried out at this stage,” she said.
“The policy is totally understandable, because it is about keeping children safe, but it does mean that large numbers of sex offenders end up being accommodated together in one place and this has unintended consequences that haven’t been thought through very carefully.
“Although the hostel inmates were formed into treatment groups in offence-based programmes as part of their rehabilitation plan, outside of these times they developed informal social networks.
“It was a negative process. They developed a supportive attitude, telling each other that what they had done wasn’t really wrong or wasn’t that bad, that at least they weren’t taking drugs and being violent.
“They were encouraging each other to continue behaving and thinking as they had done prior to prison.”
Dr Reeves noted that child sex offenders – who predominated – tended to gravitate towards each other.
“They weren’t meant to know what each other had done but they found out very easily because they would overhear conversations. And the moment you walk into a hostel and you are over the age of 35, it is assumed you are a sex offender,” she said.
She agrees that accommodating offenders in hostels is more sensible that sending them straight from jail into the community with no support, but the informal networking means that it can be counter-productive.
Dr Reeves found that hostel staff did not appreciate the problem and she calls for extra training so that ringleaders could be identified and the groups split up.
She also believes that there is a need for a wider network of hostels so that sex offenders could be dispersed.