Interesting articles out of Britain

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.

15 thoughts on “Interesting articles out of Britain

  1. Justin March 3, 2010 / 9:22 am

    Figures can be manipulated and skewed to say what one wants. I rarely trust them.

    There was a news exposé about a serial rapist called the Center City Rapist in Philadelphia, who had killed a woman. It turned out the Philadelphia Police Department was keeping the reported number of sexual assaults down by classifying them as simple assaults and other non-sexual crimes.

    You can read about it at

    I am also not assuming that the 250 serious crimes that were committed by released sexual predators in the UK were apprehended the first time they re-offended. If I was a sexual predator, I could probably get away with a lot of crimes if I was only checked up on every three months and given a new identity where no one knew what I was.

    If a dog attacks a person without provocation (and sometimes even with), it gets put down. Why the UK feels the need keep recidivist sexual predators in the community and give them new identities is beyond me.

    • Meaghan March 3, 2010 / 4:31 pm

      They don’t give them all new identities. It’s only Jon Venables, Robert Thompson and Mary Bell that got them, and that’s because of their age and the extensive publicity their crimes received. I don’t think any of those three could be classed as sexual predators, either. They didn’t sexually attack their victims.

  2. Penny March 3, 2010 / 12:31 pm

    It is sad… I gotta say, in my opinion there’s few cases where a sex offender should ever be released… and thus given the opportunity to reoffend. I do wonder about offenders so young though… the Mary Bell case confuses the issue for me!!

    Hey Meaghan, you’ve been busy! Lots of old cases updated! Makes for interesting reading but don’t stress yourself out doing it.

  3. FP March 3, 2010 / 10:33 pm

    I know this is the wrong area to post this but i’d thought i might share it with you, Meaghan. Have you heard about Chelsea King, the girl who disappeared in my hometown of San Diego last week? Well, her body was found yesterday. Police have someone in custody who they suspect killed Chelsea. Detectives are saying that Chelsea’s case and Amber Dubois, who disappeared just a couple miles north from where Chelsea was found and is profiled on your site, may be related.

    • danielle March 4, 2010 / 3:59 am

      that story has been on the news more and more and reports say he has not been a good guy to be released. But, he was released. He is smiling in his mug shot which has angered a lot of people. Hope he rots in hell.

  4. thegreatrockyhill March 4, 2010 / 4:13 am

    European countries are relatively lenient on violent criminals yet have much lower rates of recidivism.

    • Meaghan March 4, 2010 / 4:55 am

      I have ordered through Inter-library Loan a book called “Children who kill : an examination of the treatment of juveniles who kill in different European countries.” It should be arriving any day now.

    • Justin March 4, 2010 / 9:38 am

      Meaghan, I remember that someone once said that the average age of the Khmer Rouge soldier in Cambodia who participated in the genocide of over a million Cambodians in 1975-1979 was 14. The child soldiers in Africa are even younger.

      There is a reason why most militaries like their soldiers young. You can get them to do anything.

      • Meaghan March 4, 2010 / 10:40 am

        There are NGOs out there who specialize in rehabilitating child soldiers. I wonder what the success rates are. I suppose it would depend on how you define “rehabilitated.” I have read the memoir of an ex child soldier who now lives in the United States.

  5. Marie March 4, 2010 / 8:17 am

    You posted a very interesting post here. I read an article just the other day, here in my homecountry Norway, about the same subject. They have done a research here as well about released sex offenders, and the conclusion was the same as in Britain. Very few of the sex offenders released committed sexual crimes again. It also showed that those who were able to continue with a normal life in a neighbourhood where nobody knew they were privious sex offenders, were a lot less likely to comitt a cime again. While those where the neighbours knew, were socialy isolated, and were more likely to committ a new crime.

    The same article mentiond Meghans law in the US, and said that the law has not been very effectiv.

    As Justin mentioned numbers can lie, I know. And I am a great supporter of child protectiv laws. But what if these laws does not work?
    There is also a possible great number of sex offenders who are never cought in the first place.
    May be resourses should be used on finding those, instead of keeping track of those who are already been in jail?

    • Meaghan March 4, 2010 / 10:47 am

      Megan’s Law is a travesty. Jessica’s Law, down in Florida, is even worse. In Florida there are some sex offenders who have to live under bridges because there are no houses or apartments they can legally stay in, because of Jessica’s Law. They can’t get jobs for the same reason. Homeless, ostracized and unemployable — that’s a fine recipe for recidivism. Then, when sex offenders do re-offend, politicians and the like will use that as an excuse to enact even stricter laws. Thus does the cycle perpetuate itself.

      I don’t mean to come across as a friend or advocate for sex offenders. I’m not. I’m as disgusted by their conduct as anyone else and for sure I wouldn’t want one anywhere near my child if I had one. But these kinds of laws are not the answer — they don’t help and I think in a lot of cases they just make the problem worse.

    • Meaghan March 4, 2010 / 10:48 pm

      Yes, I heard about that. It’s very sad.

  6. Mike March 7, 2010 / 6:52 pm

    I guess I’m a bit late to comment, but a thought that occurred to me – perhaps Venables is struggling because his conscience won’t let him forget what he did. Thompson, on the other hand, recovered from it all quite quickly. For that, he avoids the ravings of the British press, while the man who can’t escape his past is vilified.

    • Meaghan March 7, 2010 / 7:56 pm

      The same thought occurred to me. What if Venables is consciously or subconsciously screwing up because he doesn’t feel he’s been punished enough?

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