Clinical Psychologist Who Wrote Worboys Report Monstered as “Soft Justice Campaigner”

From the Mail Online:

A psychologist said to have recommended the release if the black cab rapist has spent 30 years calling for softer sentences for sex offenders, it has been revealed…

[John Worboys’s] release was signed off by the Parole Board following a report by Dr Jackie Craissati, a renowned clinical psychologist hired by Worboys’ defence team. 

It has now been revealed that Dr Craissati has campaigned for soft justice for sexual predators and paedophiles, who she claims should be ‘treated’ in the community.

At the weekend, the Observer reported that “prison and probation officials have complained that disproportionate weight was given to external advice” by an independent psychologist “hired by Worboys’s defence team”; the same article stated that the psychologist’s “identity is protected by parole board procedures”, but Craissati’s name was apparently leaked to the Daily Express. This prompted Paul Staines’s Guido Fawkes website to dig out some quotes from old media interviews and publications, presented as a list of “gotchas”. Staines’s site is directly referenced in the Mail Online story, which also copies Staines’s “soft justice” formulation.

The url for the Guido Fawkes article indicates that the original plan was to headline with the claim that Craissati has “spent her career” campaigning for “soft justice”, although at some point the headline was softened to just “campaigned”. This seems to be an acknowledgement that the central claim is weak. The supposed “campaign” appears to consist of providing a few media quotes when asked, and the fact that she wrote a book in 1998 called Child Sexual Abusers: A Community Treatment Approach. And these details, as expected, are not presented fairly by Staines.

Staines writes that the book “calls for” community treatment, heavily implying some sort of manifesto. However, although the text notes that as of 1997 “judges were increasingly inclined to ignore recommendations for community treatment”, the book is not a critique of sentencing policy but rather a description and assessment of such treatment as it already exists (in particular, the book focuses on the Challenge Project in southeast London). It may be popular to say that all offenders should simply be locked up forever, but the fact is that a range of professionals are tasked with managing offenders who are not in prison, and as such a book on the subject may be of some use. Thus the book blurb describes itself as of interest to “all professionals involved in the assessment and treatment of sex offenders, predominantly probation, social services and mental health professionals”.

Other quotes highlighted by Staines include Craissati’s observation that “it would seem that – despite under-reporting – a number of convicted sex offenders do not sexually reoffend.” If that is what the evidence indicates, it’s difficult to see why she ought not to say it, and it’s hardly a great surprise. There is also a reference to an interview, in which she stated that

[Media] coverage tends to make child molesters defensive, anxious, withdrawn, unco-operative… It makes my job much more difficult. It makes them go back into themselves when I’ve spent a year trying to get them to take responsibility.”

Staines removes “when I’ve spent a year trying to get them to take responsibility” from her quote, in order to give the impression that she is placing the sensitivities of offenders ahead of the public’s right to know and to express moral censure. In fact, though, she is simply explaining a reality of her job. And observation appears to be the basis for all the handful of quotes assembled by Staines and MailOnline and presented as evidence of a “campaign for soft justice”.

Of course, a clinical perspective on offenders is not the only factor that society needs to take into account when dealing with child sex abuse. Victims deserve justice, and may suffer if they don’t get it; there is the value of deterrence; and while offenders may be patients it must never be forgotten that they are also criminals. The justice system as a whole needs to ask more than just “is this person currently dangerous?”, but there is no reason to suppose that Craissati objects to this. The quotes do not support the thesis that her report on Worboys – the details of which remain unknown – was driven by an ideology of “soft justice”.

It’s also currently unclear how important her Worboys report was anyway. While the Observer article led with the opinion of unnamed “prison and probation officials” as conveyed by Harry Fletcher (former assistant general secretary of NAPO, the probation officers’ union), the very last paragraph has a quote from a Parole Board spokesperson that offers a different perspective:

“The parole board carefully considered a detailed dossier of evidence of nearly 400 pages and heard evidence from nine witnesses, including four psychologists, two probation officers and three members of prison staff… The independent parole board panel took account of all of that evidence. It is simply untrue to say that they were overly influenced by one individual’s evidence.”

UPDATE: As expected, the mood on social media is ugly, with crudely abusive comments about Craissati, exhortations to harassment and at least one user expressing a wish that she should come to harm. Social media has also introduced the distortion that she was “on the parole board”.

UPDATE 2: Staines may have had a personal reason for pursuing this story: one of Worboys’s victims was a young woman named Carrie Symonds, who gave an account to the Daily Tenegraph in 2009. Symonds has since become an activist with the Conservative Party, and has been linked with Staines’s associate Harry Cole.