Use Of The Violent And Sex Offender Register Criminology Essay

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The Violent and Sex Offender Register (ViSOR) is managed by the National Policing Improvement Agency of the Home Office. It comprises records stored on a database of those obligated to register with the police in accordance with the Sexual Offences Act 2003; those jailed for more than 12 months for violent offences and people not convicted of any crimes but who are deemed to be at risk of offending. It was rolled out to every probation area and prison establishment in England and Wales in 2008 with police, probation and prison services using the same IT system for the first time. This co-ordination should ensure that the quality and synchronisation of risk assessments are improved leading to effective interventions to prevent reoffending.

In 2009 Greater Manchester Police responded to a freedom of information request under the Freedom of Information Act 2000. In complying with the request the police reported that of 16 people within their jurisdiction who were on the ViSOR since 2007, 4 had not been convicted. So 25% of those on the ViSOR had not yet been convicted of a crime in a court of law yet they were subjected to the reporting and other requirements placed on individuals who are so registered.

The notification periods for offenders are also contained within the Sexual Offences Act 2003. Where offenders are subject to imprisonment for life or for more than 30 months; imprisoned for public protection; admitted to hospital under a restriction order or subject to an order for lifelong restriction the notification period is indefinitely. The question of the legitimacy of lifelong registration has been subjected to challenge in recent years. It was successfully challenged in the High Court and the appeal against the decision was dismissed in the Supreme Court which stated that lifelong registration was incompatible with human rights (European Convention on Human Rights, Article 8).

Notification Periods for offenders Sentenced under Sexual Offences Act 2003 [3]

Imprisonment for life or for 30 months or more, imprisonment for public protection, or admission to hospital under restriction order, or subject to an Order for Lifelong Restriction: Notification Period: Indefinitely

Imprisonment for more than 6 but less than 30 months: Notification Period: 10 years

Lifelong registration has recently been successfully challenged in the High Court; this challenge was upheld on appeal to the Supreme Court[4] [5]. It was ruled that Article 8 of the European Convention of Human Rights is not compatible with it.

The requirement to register was originally imposed by the Sex Offenders Act 1997. The 1997 Act was amended by the Criminal Justice and Court Services Act 2000 [6]to include the requirement to notify police of any foreign travel arrangements. The 1997 Act was repealed by the Sexual Offences Act 2003 which completely reimplemented the provisions of the 1997 Act.

The ViSOR database holds name and address records, photographs, risk assessment, offenders' modus operandi, and an audit trail. The Police National Computer is linked to ViSOR. According to the National Policing Improvement Agency 77,000 records of named individuals are maintained on the database. [7]

Sex offenders subject to the register must inform the Police within 3 days [8] of becoming subject to the notification requirements, or within 3 days of various changes occurring [9], including moving home, changing their name, changes of passport details. Offenders must confirm their registration annually [10]. Failure to comply is an offence, subject to a penalty of up to five years imprisonment.

The importance of the ViSOR is that providing registered offenders comply with its provisions, then they can be monitored by the appropriate agencies. Although failure to comply has a penalty of up to 5 years imprisonment, this is of little comfort or assistance to people who are subjected to attacks by offenders who have failed to comply with the notification requirements. In this respect the adequacy of the registration provisions are an end in themselves and do not prevent further offending. Generally speaking the public will derive some comfort from the fact that registered offenders are on the radar of the police and are or should be at certain addresses. Problems ensue when the registered offender is not where he should be so that the supervision and monitoring duty on the agencies breaks down. Of course it may be that the offender has forgotten to register a change of address or he cannot be bothered or he has a genuine reason for not complying and that he has no intention of re-offending. The problem is that with the genuine fear of violent crime within the community, the public are alarmed if they should become aware of such failures. Even worse, if a registered offender does re-offend, the public will see this as evidence of the inadequacy of the supervisory arrangements of the ViSOR. If the non compliant registered offender does not reoffend it may be that the public is kept in oblivious ignorance and it does not come to their attention.

The MAPPA measures were put in place nine years ago in an attempt to improve the effectiveness of the management of offenders who are in the community. MAPPA has statutory force as the arrangements were first set out in the Criminal Justice and Court Services Act 2000 and re-enacted and further strengthened in the Criminal Justice Act 2003 imposing a legal duty on agencies. The measures mainly comprise information sharing and the views of professionals who come together pooling their expertise in order to ensure the public is protected from future offending of dangerous offenders. There are 3 levels of cases under MAPPA. Level 1 can be managed by one agency (usually probation service); level 2 requires more than 1 agency and level 3 requires co-ordination among various agencies.

The legal duties placed on the police, prison and probation services acting jointly as the "responsible authority" to establish arrangements for assessing and managing the risks posed by violent offenders; to review and monitor the arrangements; as part of the reviewing and monitoring arrangements, to prepare and publish an annual report on their operation.

Other agencies also under a legal duty to co-operate with the responsible authority include local authority social services, primary care trusts, jobcentre plus, youth offending teams. Local housing providers, local education authorities and electronic monitoring providers.

Thus MAPPA involves a wide range of bodies which in itself is good but the effectiveness of its measures lie in the ability to co-ordinate responses across all spectrums of the agencies by the responsible authority. In most cases the offender will be managed by the agency with supervisory responsibility but several offenders require multi-agency management and their risk management plans will be compiled and monitored at MAPPA meetings in which various agencies are present.

MAPPA is primarily concerned with managing risk. David Hanson, Minister for Justice said "Putting in place thorough systems to ensure high level vigilance of serious sexual and violent offenders on their release from prison is vital in our work protecting communities from crime" and he also acknowledges that the introduction of the MAPPA have "successful in reducing risk" (Ministry of Justice, 2008).


The results of MAPPA has seen a shift in tactics in the probation service away from welfare towards enforcement. Adequacy is shifting variable term depending on whom you ask. The minister for criminal justice and offender management has praised the MAPPA measures stating that there has been a "widespread take up of the new measures which were introduced in 2004 which handed the various agencies additional tools with which to take measures against offenders. As an example he cited the huge number of sexual offences prevention orders granted and the number of high risk offenders returned to prison for breach of licence" (HMPS, 2005b). MAPPA statistics


A legal definition of dangerous offender exists in the Criminal Justice Act 2003 and is important to the court for sentencing purposes. The Act says

Problems arise because although the term dangerous offender is used in a general way it is in fact extremely difficult to predict who is dangerous as individuals vary in their behaviour. Not only do individuals vary as between each other so that there are differing degrees and shades of dangerousness but also, on an individual basis, the scope for carrying out dangerous and violent acts may vary on a daily basis. Human nature can be fundamentally and inherently unpredictable even among stable law abiding individuals, so when mentally unstable people are added to the melting pot, the decision as to assessing their dangerousness becomes complex. The notion of dangerousness is therefore extremely complex in itself and is capable of shifting on an individual basis whereby assessing and predicting future behaviour can be compared to attempting to mould soft sand into a permanent form.

Prison population has increased dramatically over the last fifteen years from circa 43,000 at the start of the 1990s (Home Office, 2005a) to in excess of 80,000 today. Although there are numerous reasons given to explain this startling increase, the focus of the public on dangerousness is one such explanation. In 2006 a review was conducted which claimed that prison was the best place for dangerous offenders as it stopped them from re-offending (Home Office, 2006a, p. 32). In 2007 with the creation of the Ministry of Justice the preceding approach to detaining dangerous offenders for a long time did not change. On the contrary the newly formed Ministry reiterated that "prison places are available to protect the public from dangerous offenders" (Ministry of Justice, 2007, p 4).

The 1990s preoccupation with public protection shaped the policies of protecting the public from the risk of serious harm arising from violent offenders and the aim of responding more effectively to the risk of paedophiles and the increasing ???abuse (Grubin, 1998)

Within the UK the population is generally extremely fearful of the level of violent and sexual crime. The focus on this type of crime has been exacerbated by the media and even when crime rates are shown to be falling, the public perception is that they are living in a more violent society. Dangerousness has therefore been widely used to describe an increasing amount of offences and has with an expectation of more punitive sentences to deal with the increase.

Garland (2001, p178) has described the space between the community and prisons as having become more strictly enforced stating that "Those offenders who are released "into" the community are subject to much tighter control than previously and conditions that that continue to restrict their freedom….the community into which they are released is actually a closely monitored terrain, a supervised space, lacking much of the liberty that one associates with "normal life".

Commenting on a Panorama programme broadcast in 2006, HM Chief Inspector of Probation said he thought the programme made a fair point when he said that general talk of close supervision and monitoring of offenders" can give a misleading impression to the public of the extent of measures taken to prevent them (Bridges, 2007). It is clear in the early stages of this essay that there are different views on the nature and extent of monitoring to which dangerous offenders are subjected on their release from prison. Academics like Garland above consider the measures stringent, tantamount to imprisonment within the community, whereas the enforcers of those measures, probation workers, maintain that it is unhelpful to make it sound as if community service is prison in the community which it plainly is not (Bridges, 2007 p 4).

Once prisoners reach the end of their sentence but are still considered dangerous, measures are put in place to manage them in the community.


In October 2009 the Daily telegraph reported that dangerous foreign criminals are remaining in Britain despite strenuous efforts by the Government to remove them. The paper reports that immigration judges have overturned attempts by the Home Office to remove at least 50 foreign criminals from the country in the past year with their defence lawyers arguing that deporting them would breach their human rights. Examples of such cases are Mark Cadle from Berlize, jailed for having sex with a 14 year old girl who judges said would have his human right to family life infringed if deported because his family lived in Britain. A Somali who had been convicted for manslaughter and robbery was allowed to remain in the country after the court said he would be at serious risk of persecution if deported as he was from a minority clan. Of the 50 cases involved 15 include criminals with convictions for serious violent crimes, 4 sex offenders and 13 with drug convictions. In most of the cases lawyers argued that deporting them would breach their human rights to a family life because many had families in Britain. In some instances like the Somali case, the issues were that the person would be subjected to torture if returned to his homeland in breach of Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights.


Garland, D. (2001) The Culture of Control:Crime and Social Order in Contemporary Society, Oxford: Oxford University Press

HMPS (2005 b) Public Protection Arrangement: Working Together to Defend Communities, 17 October 2005, available at:,230,608,242,0,0, (accessed on 21 June 2010)

Home Office (2005a) Offender Management Caseload Statistics 2004:England and Wales, London : Home Office

Home Office (2006a), Rebalancing the Criminal Justice System in Favour of the Law Abiding Majority: Cutting Crime, Reducing Reoffending and Protecting the Public, London: Home Office.

Ministry of Justice (2007), Penal Policy-A Background Paper, London: Ministry of Justice

Ministry of Justice (2008) MAPPA Monitors Record Number of Offenders to Protect the Public, London : Ministry of Justice

Grubin (1998 )….