Tonight I discovered that Jon Venables, one of the boys who killed James Bulger back in 1993, has been sent back to prison after violating the terms of his parole. Venables and his partner in crime, Robert Thompson, were only ten years old when they killed James. They were released nine years ago and given new identities and lifelong anonymity — under strict conditions, including that they have no contact with each other and no contact with James’s family. Well, Venables did something he shouldn’t have — they’re not saying what — and now he’s back in jail, possibly for the rest of his life.
This is kind of surprising in a way because, back in 1993, everyone agreed that the more dangerous of the two was Thompson. He was the leader and Venables was the follower, and Thompson is said to have been violent when he was in custody. But it’s Venables that apparently violated parole — what’s with that? Until we find out just what it was he did, and that might not be for awhile, it’s difficult to speculate.
This case brings back echoes of Mary Bell, an eleven-year-old girl who tortured and murdered two little boys back in the sixties. Like Thompson and Venables, she was released (after twelve years) and given a new identity and lifelong anonymity from public scrutiny. Since then she hasn’t committed any crimes and, in fact, successfully raised a child to adulthood. I read Cries Unheard, Gitta Sereny’s book about Mary, back in 2006. Just a few months ago I read Looking for JJ, a novel obviously based on the Bell case. (And a very good book it was too.)
I was poking around the news sites looking for more info on Venables, and I found this really interesting three-year-old article about released sex offenders in Britain and what “the system” is doing to try to keep them from re-offending. In summary: not much. Even offenders considered at “very high risk” of recidivism are only visited once every three months. But, surprisingly, the monitoring seems to be working:
According to the most recent figures from the Home Office, there are now almost 30,000 offenders on the national sex offenders’ register – or an increase of 4 per cent on the year before. Yet in 2005 just 250 serious crimes were committed by offenders in the programme.
An idea of how many crimes were anticipated and prevented can be gleaned from the fact that 1,640 of the 13,783 offenders in the two most serious categories of risk were found to have breached their licences or Sexual Offences Protection Order… All were returned to custody immediately.
So .83% of the 30,000 people committed serious crimes in 2005 (assuming one crime per person), and 11.98% of those in the most serious category got in trouble for violating the conditions of their release, which include not hanging around playgrounds or schools. Those are actually really good results. The recidivism rates for the average person getting released from prison are nowhere near as good as that.
Which, when you think about it, is really really sad.