Academics warn against the dangers of sex offender registers

CALLS for a sex offender registry have gathered momentum since the Daniel Morcombe case, but legal groups warn it could lead to vigilantism.

Once the verdict was read out last month and convicted killer Brett Peter Cowan was sentenced for the murder of the Sunshine Coast teenager, the media could finally report on Cowan's past - that revealed he had twice been to jail for attacks on two other boys.

Queensland University of Technology School of Justice lecturer Dr Kelly Richards said she was opposed to the idea of a sex offender registry as it provided people with a false sense of security.

"The role that it plays is to placate angry and frightened people in the community," she said.

The role that it plays is to placate angry and frightened people in the community.

"But the lynch mob issue is a serious one."

Dr Richards said Australia should instead consider support group programs such as Circles of Support and Accountability (COSA) to help with reintegration into society.

"It originated in Canada but has been widely used in places across the US, UK and New Zealand," she said.

"COSA is a group of trained volunteers that act as support network for sexual offenders to help them with things like accommodation and employment.

"And the other side of it is the accountability side of things where volunteers work with police and correction staff, counsellors and so on to keep an eye on these offenders."

Dr Richards said the volunteers monitored problematic behaviours among the offenders and because these crimes thrived in secrecy and isolation this group broke that cycle.

Would you support a sex offender register?

This poll ended on 09 April 2014.

No, I do not support the idea of a sex offender register - 26%

I'd support a register only if it had detailed information to avoid mistaken identity - 30%

I would support a sex offender register - 37%

I'm not sure - 4%

This is not a scientific poll. The results reflect only the opinions of those who chose to participate.

"If the offender is exhibiting those trigger behaviours then the circle will report that to the authorities," she said.

"There have been some rigorous studies of it and it showed dramatic reductions in reoffending."

CQUniversity School of Law lecturer Lance Rundle said any government that considered a sex offender registry would need strict controls on who could access this information.

"Say for example there is a person with a similar name or a paedophile has moved from an address and it hasn't been updated on this register," he said.

"You could end up with the wrong person being accused of a crime."

Mr Rundle said if a person reoffended in a small community it would be difficult for them to gain a fair trial.

"That might be difficult in places like Bundaberg or Rockhampton."

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