Sex offender tracking scheme 'is not working'

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Sex offenders and other potentially dangerous criminals have not been properly monitored since the Home Office introduced a computer tracking system described by staff in an official report as a "disaster" and a "nightmare".

Sex offenders and other potentially dangerous criminals have not been properly monitored since the Home Office introduced a computer tracking system described by staff in an official report as a "disaster" and a "nightmare".

The £20m system is so simplistic that it gives no warnings of the risks posed by dangerous offenders and is confounded by the use of aliases, a popular ploy of predatory paedophiles.

Probation officers have been forced to revert to card indexes and paper files because of the computer system's failings. But they believe that some sex offenders may have "gone off the radar" of the monitoring agencies after moving areas or changing their names.

The failings will infuriate ministers conscious of public concerns over the dangers from paedophiles and other high-risk offenders, particularly after the abduction and murder of eight-year-old Sarah Payne in West Sussex in July.

Harry Fletcher, of the National Association of Probation Officers, described the Case Record Administration and Management (Crams) computer system as "a scandal".

Mr Fletcher said: "The fact that you cannot monitor sex offenders and other dangerous individuals compromises public safety and can put staff at risk of violence."

The Crams system was developed in 1993 to allow probation services in England and Wales a co-ordinated national computer system for working with offenders.

But by last year, probation staff in many areas had become so exasperated with it that they stopped using it altogether.

The report by the Inspectorate of Probation stated: "Despite the Home Office investment, there was no national computer system to help manage dangerous offenders.

"Services were generally having to rely on paper files, card indexes and registers to retain and access information on offenders, presenting a risk of harm to the public."

The report, which criticised the Home Office for its lack of "leadership", found that the system was "not user-friendly" and "could not provide a clear overview of an individual case".

It went on: "In view of the high priority given by ministers and the public to managing risk and public protection, particularly in relation to sex offenders, the piecemeal nature of these developments was a matter of concern."

One regional probation committee told the report's authors that expectations of the system had been "high" but that it turned out be "terrible, a disaster, a nightmare". The inspectorate concluded that demands by ministers that paedophiles, rapists and other high-risk offenders were to be placed under the closest supervision were not being complied with.

In a foreword to the report, the Chief Inspector of Probation, Sir Graham Smith, stated: "Crams has not provided an effective case management system to support operational staff."

The Home Office is now introducing an alternative offender management computer system but it will not be fully operational until 2003.

The Home Office minister Paul Boateng said: "I want the new system to be fully accountable."

Comments