Emotions ran high during a passionate States debate over an online petition demanding “higher sentences for paedophiles", which saw politicians consider rehabilitation, risk and even capital punishment.
Held yesterday, the debate, which pondered the function of an effective criminal justice system, was described by Home Affairs Minister Len Norman as a “very high quality and a very high level debate.”
Started by local vigilante Cheyenne O’Connor, the petition garnered 5,100 signatures – meaning it qualified for debate in the Assembly – and demanded that minimum prison terms should be attached to sexual offences against children and that convicted paedophiles should remain on the Sex Offenders’ Register for life.
Constable Len Norman opened the debate, explaining that, although the government agreed that offences committed against children are abhorrent, there were various problems with a blanket approach to those convicted of child sex crimes. By way of example, he highlighted that, if implemented, the petition's demands could even make criminals of children found to have indecent images of others their age.
Pictured: The Home Affairs Minister bringing the debate to a close.
At the end of the debate, the Home Affairs Minister described the discussion as “emotional”, paying particular “tribute” to Deputy Jess Perchard and Deputy Trevor Pointon for the “the research they did and the thoughtfulness they put into their speeches.”
Deputy Perchard urged her fellow politicians “to consider the motivation” behind the petition and to “take time to truly understand the underlying assumptions or concerns that individuals have” on this issue.
Acknowledging that committing such crimes against a child is “deplorable”, Deputy Perchard also used her speech to raise questions about the function of an effective criminal justice system.
She asked: “And what is the purpose of imprisoning a person? Is it simply to punish them? Is it to keep society safe? And of course it is both, but it is also to ensure that that person leaves that time of confinement with a better understanding of what is acceptable and what is not and what is moral and what immoral and what is right and what is wrong."
Pictured: Deputy Jess Perchard spoke during the debate.
The Deputy also questioned our understanding of what drives someone to carry out these kinds of crimes: “I think we have to have unpalatable conversations about what motivates people to do the things that they do because it’s unimaginable to commit harm to a child, particularly of a sexual nature. It’s unimaginable, it’s deplorable, it’s abominable, it’s contemptable. People do it. And I have to ask: ‘are these people well?’"
This sentiment was echoed by Chief Probation Officer Mike Cutland who gave his thoughts on the issue to the Home Affairs Scrutiny Panel – chaired by Deputy Rob Ward.
In his submission, Mr Cutland made the case for moving “away from a criminal justice only approach to one that encapsulates a public health dimension to stopping sexual abuse based upon the fact that sexual abuse is a life course and multi-disciplinary issue impacting not only individuals, but communities and society as a whole.
He added: “A public health approach would emphasise opportunities to intervene with general, and, at risk populations whilst also providing services to victims and perpetrators.”
Pictured: Probation Chief Mike Cutland has also given his thoughts on the issue.
Elsewhere in his letter, Mr Cutland said: “Perpetrators should always be held to account and the effect of abuse on victims needs to be recognised. A progressive and effective strategy for reducing the risk of reoffending would be to move to a position where genuine employment and accommodation opportunities are available to offenders who wish to break free from the label “sex offender” and forge a new non-offending identity.
“This approach is likely to encourage the family and friends of offenders who are often so painfully affected by the crime and often share the sense of shame. Yet it is usually these pro- social support networks that need to be maintained if we are serious about encouraging rehabilitation and reducing risk in our society.”
Deputy Pointon also urged his fellow politicians to consider the complexities of such offending, explaining that although it is often characterised as an “existential threat” carried out by strangers – children are more at risk from people they are close or even related to.
“The abuser is not necessarily around the next corner or waiting in the bushes, but is probably very much closer to home.”
He also argued that although “knee-jerk reactions are understandable in this emotional area, but knee-jerk reactions seldom lead to effective policy.”
Pictured: The petition demanded higher sentences for those convicted of paedophilic offences by Jersey's court system.
Deputy Steve Luce, meanwhile, highlighted some of the difficulties of the recently-introduced e-petition system. Of Ms O'Connor's petition, he noted that the wording did not specify how much higher the sentences should be or take into consideration different circumstances of offending.
Another contributor to the discussion, Constable John Le Bailly took quite a different tack, saying: “My personal view would be for the serious offences to have them hung, drawn and quartered and cremated and their ashes thrown on an offshore wind, but that’s not going to happen. Political correctness will see that that doesn’t. However, I still maintain that that would be a very good deterrent because for one you would not have any reoffending.”
Despite making his own suggestion for punishing convicted paedophiles, he ultimately felt that “this is not a job for us to do, this is for the lawmakers to decide.”
To which, another politician could be heard whispering: “We are the lawmakers!”
Honouring the work of the Police, and the various institutions that give pre- and post-release support to offenders of all kinds as well as the team at Dewberry House who handle referrals for sexual crimes, Constable Norman also made mention of the petitioners who instigated the “worthy debate.”
He said: “I’m sure they will appreciate the fact that they have been listened to and we have treated their views with respect. That I think is very important.”
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