Letter: Victims in the dark

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Victims in the dark

Sir: Your headline "Schizophrenic jailed for killing" (23 December), gives a misleading impression of how mentally disordered offenders are dealt with. In these cases the offender is made the subject of a "restriction order" not a prison sentence. Rightly, such people become patients, (usually restricted in one of three high-security special hospitals) not prisoners; and when they are cured, or no longer considered a danger, they are discharged, usually conditionally. During that period they may, when it is deemed appropriate, be confined in less secure accommodation before their eventual discharge. There is no way of knowing - if you are on the outside -how long the period of confinement will be.

This is of more than academic interest for victims, or the families of victims, involved in the case, because once the offender becomes a patient there is virtually no hope of ever learning anything about his or her whereabouts or of any discharge plans, or applications to vary the "restriction order". Medical confidentiality is all-pervasive and the victim has no right to know.

For families who have lost loved ones this is a cruel and unfair system. If "their" offender had been dealt with under the criminal system they would be kept informed of key developments in the custodial process. They would know roughly how long the prisoner would serve. They would be informed of any release plans and, if they wished, they could express their views. This system does not give them the right to decide on questions of release - nor should it - but the process includes them and acknowledges their involvement in what are always traumatic cases.

There have been real improvements in the way that victims of crime are treated. Until fairly recently they were often treated appallingly. But for this group of people there have been no improvements and their needs are still ignored even though they have suffered the loss of loved ones, often in the most dreadful circumstances.

PETER ANDERSON

Victim Support Co-ordinator

Llandrindod Wells, Powys

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