Monday, April 20, 2009

A Place For Paedophiles

Occasionally there's a programme on television that I find incredibly fascinating. Such programmes, unfortunately, are seemingly rare on British TV. The teaser prior to airing had me hooked, invoking an air of morbid fascination that would cause me to have an overwhelming torrent of conflicting thoughts throughout, and after, the 45 minutes of airtime.

A Place For Paedophiles was a documentary about the hospital, and I use the term loosely, in Coalinga State in California which houses convicted sex offenders after they have served their prison time and that are deemed unsuitable for release into society. The inmates have to volunteer for a rehabilitation programme in the hope that one day they will be cured of their sexual deviancy issues and eventually released. Those that didn't volunteer are basically kept inside the hospital, seemingly until the day they die. The hospital has over 500 "patients", 70% of which have refused to participate in the rehabilitation programme, saying that the facility and the offer of treatment is just an excuse to keep them locked up indefinitely. Given that in the last 10 years only 13 people have been seen as fit for release it's not hard to see their point.

Presented by the articulate Louis Theroux, of whom I have great admiration for, especially the way in which he has previously tackled issues in other documentaries (most notably Louis And The Nazi's in which he interviewed the Gaede twins, known as Prussian Blue). It was plain to see how difficult he found maintaining an impartial journalistic view, given that he was privy to their files containing details of their offences.

This well constructed documentary, fronted by Louis, raised several questions and issues to me. Firstly, even though the crimes committed by these people are utterly abominable, they have in fact served their time in prison. They were tried and convicted by their peers, and given sentences, which they all served. After this they have been put into further incarceration, and given little hope of release. Which, to me, makes a bit of a mockery of the justice system. Especially as prison is supposed to rehabilitate offenders. Are we saying that there is no hope of getting these people integrated back into society? In which case, why bother with prison in the first place. Why not just put them straight into Coalinga? Not that I think you can cure sexual offenders anyway. If someones sexual orientation is towards children, then it's part of their make up. It's not something that can just be turned off after a series of counselling sessions. We've stopped trying to cure homosexuality. Well, most of the civilised societies have anyway. Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying that paedophilia is right in anyway whatsoever. I'm just not sure what the right approach is.

One patient seemed fairly genuine when it came to his treatment. He'd volunteered for chemical, then proper castration. I don't know how much of an effect this has on a man and his sexual desires, but most people I've spoken to seem fairly convinced as to it being one step towards a successful solution. This patient had been ordered by a judge for release. However, that was a year ago and he's still in Coalinga because the authorities can't find him somewhere to live. As far as I'm aware, communities within a certain radius of the specific house have to be informed prior to a sexual offender moving in. If there are objections, then they can't live there. Apparently, finding accommodation is one of the hardest things to do. Hardly surprising really.

Although this particular patient appeared genuine, I couldn't help but feel wary. So often you hear of paedophiles grooming their victims, often sexual offenders are incredibly charming, intelligent and above all persuasive individuals. Who is to say that they aren't using their techniques on adults, trying to bend the system for their own needs. I guess that's just down to a natural state of suspicion when it comes to dealing with people that have committed such crimes. But that in turn brings up another issue. Do we, as a society, have it in us to give these people a second chance? After prison, after being in a place like Coalinga for year upon year and receiving treatment, will the rest of us ever be able to trust them if they are released? I'm very doubtful.

So what's the solution? I think it depends on what angle you use to look at the problem. Starting at the top, the death penalty. If you've ever suffered at the hands of sexual predator, or if your son or daughter has, or if the victim has been someone very close to you, then the need for justice or vengeance can be so great that all you can think of is to have the offender removed from the very surface of the planet. How can anyone that has raped and abused over 50 children from the ages of 7 to 12 be allowed to have any place on Gods earth? After such atrocities against human beings that are too young to defend themselves, either physically or mentally, what possible reason is there for letting them live? And why should tax payers fork out to keep them at a cost of over $200,000 a year? Surely the death penalty would resolve this. It's cheap, quick and leaves no opportunity afterwards for them reoffend. But who are we, either as individuals or as a society, to decide who lives and who dies. Is killing another human being the answer?

Somewhere like Coalinga has been created because the powers that be have decided that there is no place for these people in society after serving a prison sentence. So can we conclude that prison itself doesn't work as either a deterrent or as a form of rehabilitation? Judging by the number of people that are released from prison that reoffend, not just when it comes to crimes of a sexual nature but otherwise, then I would have to say no. Prison doesn't work. So why not bypass the political bullshit that surrounds a place like Coalinga and just come out and say "Look, we have no answers so we're just going to lock these people up for their entire lives"? Do we have a right to do that to other human beings?

Do they have a right to permanently destroy a childs innocence?

2 wrongs do not make a right. Right? Or maybe it's the lesser of 2 evils we should be leaning towards.


Aunt Reeny's After Thoughts said...

Very interesting. I don't believe in the death penalty. Of course my gut reaction as far as child molesters go contradicts my opposition. These are hard issues to sort.

As little as I know about the rehab rate amongst paedophiles, I find it hard to believe that there urges can be eliminated entirely. I, like you, believe that it is part of their make up. Even if they opt for chemical castration, I STILL find it highly plausible that they could re-offend.

So there is the catch 22. What to do? It seems as though the justice system has come up with alternative routes as far as this lot is concerned. If and when they are released, there is the added issue of their safety as far as vigilante justice goes....

Thanks. Now my head is swimming.

Beth said...

This is a tough one and you’ve had more time to think about it. I don’t condone the death penalty (for a variety of reasons) but perhaps society should equate the death of a child’s innocence and the irreparable damage done to their lives with murder – and sentence accordingly. (Altho even a “life sentence” never actually turns out to mean “life.”) Too harsh? Would that even work as a deterrent for pedophiles?

Why would 70% of those “patients” refuse the rehab program if refusing meant no hope at all for release?

Perhaps there actually is no place for pedophiles in society. Who wouldn’t object if a convicted sexual offender (even though he had served his time) planned to move into the neighbourhood? I would. The safety of all children comes first – they are entitled to that innocence of childhood you refer to.

(My comment is the length of a post!)