Sex offenders in pilot drugs trial
- 11 June 2012
- From the section UK
Whatton Prison in Nottinghamshire is a jail with a difference.
Every one of its 840 adult male inmates is a sex offender - and 70% of them are paedophiles. It is Europe's largest sexual offender rehabilitation centre.
Rehabilitation is at the core of this category C prison. Only those who have agreed to treatment get sent here, although they might face a wait of up to three years to get on the courses they need.
Most prison sex offender treatment programmes take the form of group psychological therapy sessions. But a more controversial experiment is going on at Whatton - the use of drugs to suppress sexual thoughts and urges.
Lynn Saunders, the governor, has worked with sex offenders for 20 years and says she loves her job.
The initial evaluation of the "anti-libidinal" drugs pilot she introduced in August 2009 appear to show it is working.
It is early days, and the number taking part is small - so far fewer than 60 - but the graphs illustrating such measures as prisoners' strength of sexual urges, or time spent thinking about sex, all show a downward trend.
The Ministry of Justice is pleased with the initial evaluation of the scheme. The treatment will continue to be available to high-risk sex offenders who are assessed as being suitable, it says.
"There are some really encouraging results", Ms Saunders says.
"The important thing to say is this is voluntary, there's no element of compulsion. This doesn't give people an automatic get-out-of-jail-free card.
"This is part of a range of initiatives that we need to put in place to enable prisoners to demonstrate that their risk is reduced."
'Difficult for her'
There are two types of drugs being trialled here: Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, more commonly known as anti-depressants, and anti-androgens.
Dr Adarsh Kaul, clinical director for offender health at Nottinghamshire NHS Trust, explains how they work.
"One of the groups of drugs acts on the brain - it turns down the volume of sexual thoughts. The other depresses the sex hormone testosterone. By doing so, it reduces the level of sexual arousal."
David (we have changed his name and those of the other offenders we spoke to) is in his mid-30s, and five years into an indeterminate sentence for public protection. He pleaded guilty to an offence involving phone sex with a 14-year-old girl.
"I can't really imagine how difficult it was for her," David says, and agrees his crime could affect his victim for the rest of her life.
He describes how he used to constantly fantasise about teenage girls. Now voluntarily taking anti-depressants, he says his preoccupation with sexual thoughts has reduced significantly.
"I want to make sure I don't commit more offences. I understand the perception outside in the community that I possibly am evil, but I personally believe that my offence is the thing that was evil. I'm not."
'Deserve the chance'
The senior forensic psychologist at Whatton, Kerensa Hocken, is in charge of the prison's sex offender treatment programmes.
"What we're finding with the treatment programmes and the medication is that men can change, and they can take responsibility for managing their behaviour," she says.
Robert was convicted in 2008 of raping young girls over a number of years. He was given an indeterminate sentence. He says he knows what he did is very wrong and admits to being haunted by his crimes. Like David, he is taking anti-depressants.
He volunteered because he wanted to quash the sexual thoughts that were in his head 24 hours a day.
"It's hell," he said. "You can't really think about anything else."
When it is suggested that some would like to see people like him locked away for life, he argues the case for rehabilitation.
"We're human beings as well. Fair enough, we've made quite substantial mistakes in our lives. I think we deserve the chance to rehabilitate, just like any other prisoner."
But Peter Saunders, a victim of child sex abuse himself who now runs NAPAC, a charity providing support to adult survivors of child sex crimes, disagrees.
"Offences against children are unique, they're unlike any other crime.
"Somebody who destroys the innocence, who offends, hurts, violates a child, they have to accept they are putting their own human rights in jeopardy.
"Children only get one shot at childhood. That victim probably has to live with the consequences for the rest of their life."
Of course whilst inside prison, the anti-libidinal drugs pilot is taking place in a highly controlled environment. Ms Hocken concedes the temptations outside prison would be very different.
What about when a paedophile is seeing children again on a daily basis?
"We spend a lot of time practising how they will manage those sorts of situations, so when they do see children for the first time, perhaps, what their reactions will be, who they can seek out for support," Ms Hocken says.
A paedophile with "hundreds, possibly thousands" of victims, Mike was convicted of common assault.
He describes himself as a voyeur and is now taking anti-androgens to suppress the male sex hormone testosterone.
"I wish I'd done this programme years ago," he tells me.
As with the other two offenders, Mike talks about having been preoccupied with thoughts about sex.
"Since being on the meds, my behaviour has changed completely." His voice starts to break slightly.
"It is such a relief not to be thinking about sex all the time. Being able to speak to a woman. Being able to view the woman as a woman, as a human being, as a person, not a sexual object."
Mike says he has no problem with the idea of taking the anti-androgens for the rest of his life.
When asked about being back in the community and seeing lots of young women around he admits, though, to being concerned.
"In all honesty, it's frightening", he says.
"But hopefully by the time I'm viewed as safe enough to be released I will have a strong support, people I can turn to if I feel myself going down the old road again. I don't want to create any more victims."