Editorial: Wrong street for a child sex offender

Hutt South MP Trevor Mallard pushed for a repeat child sex offender to be removed from a house in Maungaraki.
JOHN NICHOLSON//FAIRFAX NZ

Hutt South MP Trevor Mallard pushed for a repeat child sex offender to be removed from a house in Maungaraki.

OPINION: A terrible and familiar problem has played itself out in Lower Hutt, as it does in every community sooner or later: how to accommodate a paedophile in the world when he has completed his prison sentence.

A repeat child sex offender was placed in a house in Maungaraki on August 1, where he was monitored by GPS and, Corrections Minister Judith Collins said, "someone is with him 24 hours, 7 days a week".

After a community outcry, however, he was moved to prison grounds in Christchurch, the Corrections Department revealed on Monday.

This will be welcome news in Maungaraki. One family of renters next door to the man had already moved out. Another neighbouring family resorted to closing the curtains down one side of the house because of their discomfort.

READ MORE:
Corrections shifts child-sex offender from Lower Hutt to Christchurch prison grounds
A Lower Hutt community wants a sex offender gone - but where will he go?
Lower Hutt Mayor will ask Corrections to move Maungaraki child-sex offender
Residents petitioning government to rid communities of high-risk offenders
Residents demand to know more about offender
Family flees as child-sex offender moves in next door

According to the local MP Trevor Mallard, there were 31 children in the immediate vicinity. He also argued that the placement was too close to a school.

Most people will relate very quickly to this anxiety and fear. They will also agree with the mother who suggested that before the Corrections Department placed the man, "they could have knocked on the door and asked if we had any children."

If Mallard's numbers are correct, they were ample evidence to move him – the sheer number of children so close by made it an especially poor choice.

Corrections National Commissioner Jeremy Lightfoot says he is open to learning "ways in which we can do this better for concerned communities" after the experience in Maungaraki.

Better communication will be a start. Although there will be a risk of inflaming panic, most people will feel more offended if they are never consulted at all about a neighbour with such a history.

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Then Corrections must find a street with few or no children in it, and certainly none right next door. This may be hard, but the department needs to work extremely hard in such cases.

An ageing population surely offers enclaves where the population is mostly adult. Even if housing is more expensive there, that may be the price for more peace of mind. Vast funds are already being spent on monitoring such offenders.

What is not justified in cases like these is vigilantism or extra-judicial punishment. Both Mallard and a local business owner called for the man to be moved onto prison grounds, which Corrections has now agreed to temporarily.

"Nobody wants this guy near them," said the business owner.

That may be true, but putting him in a prison seems disconcertingly close to locking him up again – when he has not offended for more than a decade. 

Even if an indefinite sentence seems appealing, it was not what he was given. Community alarm is not an excuse for trampling on the rule of law.

In the end, this is a disturbing case and a difficult problem. Few people can find sympathy for paedophiles, but some will inevitably need to live in the community. Finding a place for them requires extreme levels of oversight and care. That wasn't what happened in Maungaraki.

 - The Dominion Post

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