Sex offenders strike again 21 years on, study shows

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Sex offenders may lay dormant in the community for as long as 21 years after they have been released from prison before committing another sexual offence, a Government study has found.

The findings show that some sex offenders wait until they have been released from supervision orders before they strike again. Such offenders, says the Home Office research, pose a long-term risk that may require greater powers to monitor their behaviour.

The study, published today by the British Psychological Society, followed the reoffending patterns of 409 sexual offenders discharged from prison in 1979. Within 21 years a quarter of the sample had committed at least one further sexual offence - 103 offenders committed 405 sexual offences. Of this group 37 reoffended within the first five years of living within the community but a fifth, 19, waited at least 10 years before offending.

The report's authors say: "This is a substantial proportion and illustrates how a group of convicted sexual offenders released from prison do sexually reoffend but take a long time to first do so."

The Home Office research-ers said their findings raised questions about the appropriate length of the supervisory period for sexual offenders released into the community. They asked: "If a proportion are unlikely to further sexually reoffend until a number of years have passed since their release then at what point is it sensible and economically viable to stop supervising them?''

They argue that long-term follow-up is necessary to evaluate properly the risk posed by sexual offenders living in the community.

The study calls for further research into the reoffending patterns of sexual offenders and it concludes that offenders who reoffend after 10 years "fall outside the confines of the current maximum supervisory period [10 years]''.

In the past few years Labour has introduced risk-assessment panels, comprising probation and police officers, social workers and prison staff, to keep a check on the most dangerous offenders in the community.