Thu | Apr 2, 2020

OUT SEX PERVERTS - Child welfare boss calls for offender registry to be made public

Published:Thursday | February 27, 2020 | 12:15 AMPaul Clarke/Gleaner Writer
Rosalee Gage-Grey
Rosalee Gage-Grey

Amid growing concern about an increase in sexual crimes against juveniles in Jamaica, the head of the country’s chief child-protection and welfare organisation has given strong endorsement of a more transparent sex offender registry.

The debate over the sex crime roll was reignited last week after a six-year-old girl was allegedly fondled by a man in Portmore, St Catherine. The child was one of at least three victims who have confessed to being sexually assaulted, years apart, by the same man.

The accused was attacked by a mob and hospitalised under police guard.

The six-year-old’s father expressed shock about the man’s reputed serial history and said that he would have protected his daughter if he had been aware of the neighbour’s antecedents.

In an exclusive interview with The Gleaner, chief executive officer of the Child Protection and Family Services Agency (CPFSA), Rosalee Gage-Gray, said that she would not be averse to having open to public scrutiny the residential records of sex offenders in Jamaica. That policy shift, it is argued, would flag criminals who move into communities and make it harder for them to blend into neighbourhoods. However, privacy-rights advocates believe that declarations on ex-convicts’ movements would be tantamount to handing down a second sentence.

But the child-rights official contends that the public interest trumps privacy demands.

“Usually, I don’t give my opinion on such matters, but I really think people have a right know who their neighbours are, and for persons who have committed offences, as long as there is adequate legislation to facilitate it, then it should be open,” Gage-Gray said.

The sex offender registry is managed by the Department of Correctional Services in the Ministry of National Security, but unveiling criminal records and residential history could allow for closer tracking of offenders.

Trinidad and Tobago made its registry public on January 31.

The CPFSA reported that there were 2,623 cases of sexual abuse against children in 2019, an increase of 276, or 12 per cent, over the previous year when 2,347 cases were reported.

Gage-Gray has urged stakeholders to get their lawmakers to move on the vexed issue.

“I guess it’s just the legislation. We hear people clamouring for it to be open. I believe that they need to know who is in their communities.

“It is not a position that we at the CPFSA are averse to, but we would have to look at the ramifications in terms of the rights, and all of that, so I think in looking at review of legislation, it is something we could look at,” Gage-Gray said.

The CPFSA chief executive said that with the revision of the Corrections Act having been done, it was an opportune time to begin dialogue on making the sex offender registry available to the public.