Straw sex and drug policies `ignored'

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PROBATION OFFICERS have attacked a series of measures introduced by Jack Straw, the Home Secretary, saying they are unpopular, inappropriate and largely ignored by the courts.

Schemes to tackle sex offenders, drug-related offenders and unruly children, including the highly publicised child curfew and parenting order schemes, are criticised in research by the National Association of Probation Officers. It reveals, for example, that a large proportion of drug addicts would rather go to jail than undergo treatment on a new government programme.

Nearly six months after the introduction of the Crime and Disorder Act, the courts have issued only 30 of the new drug treatment and testing orders. About 60 of the 120 drug- related offenders who have been offered the programme have refused to take part.

Harry Fletcher, of the association, said: "They say that having to report every day for counselling and being tested several times a week was too tough. They would rather go to prison and stay on the drugs."

The programme, which costs pounds 6,000 per head, was introduced last September in three pilot areas; Gloucestershire, Merseyside and Croydon. Offenders are required to have intensive therapy five days a week and are subjected to drug-testing between one and three times a week.

The association has written to the Home Office minister George Howarth to complain about the "degrading" conditions in which testing takes place. Lone female officers are having to watch over male offenders while they produce a urine sample.

Probation officers also believe the Home Office's attempts to curb the activities of sex offenders by making them subject to court orders are proving unsuccessful. Only one Sex Offender Order has so far been imposed, on the Manchester rapist Michael Gordon, 35. He was released last year after being sentenced to 12 years in 1988 for raping two students. The order places restrictions on his movements, breaches of which could result in a five-year jail sentence.

Mr Fletcher said the idea that sex offenders spent "all day hanging around playgrounds" was inaccurate. "Orders restricting their movements are very limited. What is needed is intensive supervision and surveillance and a requirement to undertake a sex offender treatment programme."

Other orders introduced in the Crime and Disorder Act have also been largely ignored by the courts. Local child curfew schemes, designed to curb the activities of persistent child offenders, have yet to be used anywhere in the country, despite being available to the courts for nearly six months.

At the same time, the Government introduced parenting orders, designed to help parents to prevent their children committing anti-social acts. Although the orders have been available in nine pilot areas since September, only 21 have been issued.

Mr Fletcher said the level of take-up of all the orders must be "extremely disappointing" for the Home Office. And he added: "The idea of the blanket child curfew was deeply flawed and the parenting orders were highly suspect."

A Home Office spokeswoman said the take-up of all the orders would be reviewed.