Citation(2013) 25 SAcLJ 352
Published date01 December 2013
Date01 December 2013

Book Review

by Karen Harrison

You cannot have it both ways: if offenders are to be held accountable and punished for their actions, they should also be treated with respect when undergoing punishment and when entering treatment program[me]s. They should not be regarded as mere objects to be manipulated for our ends. They are people like us in that they also have intrinsic value and are part of the moral community.1

1 Criminal sexual behaviour is complex and multifaceted, and thus, so is the management of sexual offenders. Every agency dealing with sexual offenders grapple with the fundamental question, “Why do people commit sexual offences?” The theories of sexual offending that are studied for the purposes of understanding such offences and the offenders who commit them range from the established Finkelhor's Precondition Model2 to more recent ones such as Ward and Siegert's Pathways Model.3 Through the understanding of the basic questions, specific regimes for the management of sex offenders are established. In Dangerousness, Risk and the Governance of Serious Sexual and Violent Offenders (“Dangerousness”), Harrison describes and evaluates specific methods and regimes in the management of sexual and violent offenders. Sexual and violent offenders are generally perceived as dangerous criminals, and sexual offenders, especially those termed “paedophiles”, attract a severe public condemnation. They are the “folk devils of modern society”, often the target of the media and vigilantes.4 They tend not to attract much sympathy for the often lengthy prison sentences that

they receive. Dangerousness is not a book about the length or correctness of incarcerating such offenders; it is a book about dangerous offenders and how they are being managed in England and Wales. Criminology is not only concerned with the protection of society or about what is to be done about dangerous offenders; it is also concerned with the rehabilitation and reintegration of such offenders into society. It is not only because such offenders are human beings and thus retain the right to be treated as such, but there is also the practical concern that they do not reoffend.

2 Sexual offenders are often classified together with violent offenders as “dangerous” offenders. Harrison thus begins with a chapter on the definition of “dangerousness and the dangerous offender”. The idea of “dangerousness” is intuitively understood with little need for specific study and description, but Harrison shows that this is not so when she pulls out various kinds of conduct in history to show that dangerous behaviour varies according to the society in its time. Witches were once regarded as dangerous, and there was a time when “English Law paid more attention to property crimes, considering violent and sexual crimes as mere torts that could be made right through compensation”.5 We are reminded of how we readily consider as dangerous those whom we do not understand and perceive to be threatening. The chapter on the definition of dangerousness may alter some views as to how we divide people into “dangerous” and “non-dangerous” categories.

3 Harrison discusses the changes to sentencing and legislation exemplified by the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 20086 and attributes the changes to what she sees as “the new penology”.7 Quoting David Garland — who said that “the new penal idea is that the public be protected and its sentiments be expressed. Punitive segregation — lengthy sentence terms in no-frills prisons and a marked, monitored existence for those who are eventually released — is increasingly the penal strategy of choice [sic]”8— Harrison argues that the sentencing policy is shifting from retributive principles to consequentialist principles, specifically the prevention of crime. Dangerousness expresses a concern shared by criminologists and sociologists, that legislation

based on the notion of “dangerousness” has been “influenced by populist punitiveness”9 and marked by a “zero tolerance policy in an effort to eliminate all offending behaviour”.10 There may be many factors that led to this shift in policy in the UK, and it may be that the reduced tolerance is connected to an increase in intolerance generally in the modern society characterised by the Internet. Harrison draws attention to the fact that offenders should be punished for what they have done in the past and not what they may do in the future.

4 When we begin to perceive and categorise danger as a key factor in criminal conduct, we would invariably consider the risk factors as well as the likelihood factor, and hence perceive the world through a constant evaluation of threats and danger. The neutral nature of “risk”— a word once used predominantly in the insurance industry (to categorise the likelihood of an event occurring) — has been altered, and now its use is often associated with how threats are controlled. The transformation in usage means that offenders are assessed in terms of the danger they pose. Dangerousness covers the range of problems with such assessments, including specific problems such as “the statistical fallacy”,11 which assumes that information from one generation of offenders can be generalised and transferred to the individual under assessment. Harrison argues that once the risk has been identified, the offender needs to be treated as an individual to have him matched with the most appropriate programme in order to secure success in the management of the risk posed by that offender. There is also a need for continued assessment of the treatment and intervention for that offender. With that, she takes the reader to a study of what is done with a...

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