Delivering circles of support and accountability to protect communities from sexual harm and sexual reoffending


The challenges of community risk management

This guest blog was originally produced in ‘Sexual Abuse’, the official journal of the Association for the Treatment of Sexual Abusers, on 17th March 2023.

Community risk management is always a difficult balancing act, and we are grateful to the supervising agents and clinicians who make it happen! On one level it involves preventing someone from reoffending, while simultaneously helping them develop a post-conviction, and often post-prison lifestyle that is incompatible with offending, while at the same time protecting the public. Often these goals can seem paradoxical, as we need to give someone the opportunity to desist while in a less-than-completely-controlled environment. What makes this challenge more difficult is the reality that risk management discussions between professionals and the public don’t always match up. The public often sees prison sentencers as too short, and not understanding the release conditions governing how people are managed in the community. At the same time, professionals often argue for nuanced and flexible risk management plans that offer individuals the opportunity to road test their risk management plans, desistance skills, and opportunities for non-offending in safe, controlled circumstances. In the UK, as well as in other countries, risk management plans are governed by risk, assessment and tied to sentence length, via index offense severity. This means that there is a recognition that risk is individualized and dynamic. It also means that risk management, like incarceration, is expensive. The public often want professionals to manage and contain the risk, whereas the reality is that professionals provide the context for the individual to manage their own risk. This leads us to the high-profile risk management story of the week, the recall of Gary Glitter.

This week, former pop star Paul Gadd (known professionally as Gary Glitter), who once sold over 20 million records and is among the top 100 most successful chart acts ever in the UK, was recalled to prison after only a few weeks of freedom in the community. He had served roughly half of a 16-year sentence for sexually abusing three young girls decades ago. Glitter was released at the halfway point in his sentence, as is often the case in the UK, and moved to a hostel in January where he was recorded tying to access the dark web and download child sexual abuse imagery on his smartphone. This breach of his license conditions was filmed by another person living in the hostel and reported to the authorities. According to the New York Times, “In 2012, Mr. Gadd had been arrested as part of an inquiry set up to investigate accusations of sexual abuse against Jimmy Savile, a longtime BBC host. That arrest led to Mr. Gadd’s conviction in 2015 on one count of attempted rape, four counts of indecent assault and one count of sexual intercourse with a girl under the age of 13.” Previously, he was convicted in 1999 for downloading and possessing thousands of child sexual abuse images; he was acquitted on a charge involving the sexual abuse of an underage girl in the 1970s. From there, he lived in Thailand and then Vietnam and was convicted of sex crimes in each country. Mr. Gadd is now 78 years old.

We are not going to critique that Gary Glitter case, but instead use it as an example of the challenges of managing risk in individuals released on license. Glitter is a good example of a chronic repeat offender who uses every opportunity to reoffend, as is demonstrated by his litany of offenses, trials, breaches, and recalls. The challenge that the HM Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS) faces is how to control and monitor his rehabilitation, treatment, risk management, and limit his opportunities for re-offending within the context of his current sentence. Do they keep him in prison indefinitely? Do they place him in an open prison or another form of secure setting? Do they limit his access to mobile phones, technology, and other similar resources? In addition to the other balancing acts, HMPPS is tasked with protecting both the public and the human rights of prisoners and people under the care of probation, and it is all rooted in difficult decisions about the risks that people on license pose to the community and to themselves. These are all challenging questions that apply not only for Gadd, but other high-risk individuals. In addition, with the glitter case his celebrity is an additional factor that needs to be considered above and beyond other potential risky offenders. A glimpse into his history reveals the kinds of flight from justice (via his yacht!) that others could only dream of.

Gadd’s case is a reminder both prices paid by society to manage people at elevated risk of re-offending and the human toll that abuse takes. At 78, one might easily assume that Gadd would be easy to supervise in the community. On the other hand, technology (including access to social media) has completely changed the profile of possible risks that require monitoring. And throughout everything, little is known about the wishes of those who Gadd abused. The average community supervision agent working with these individuals must possess knowledge of criminal re-offense trajectories across the lifespan, technology, the habits, and schedules of each client, etc. and keep in mind that each client can be very different. In Gadd’s case, he remains quite wealthy and resourceful.

The Glitter case highlights the important nuances of risk management. In his case, recall to prison is a risk-management success rather than a failure. It highlights that the system can work; but the real question is, what next?

By Kieran McCartan, PhD, and David Prescott, LICSW

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