Page last updated at 11:54 GMT, Wednesday, 5 August 2009 12:54 UK

Curbs on freed violent offenders

Man holding a knife
The new orders are intended to help protect the public

Asbo-style Violent Offender Orders (VOOs) that can restrict criminals' movements after they are released from prison are coming into force.

Civil VOOs are intended to help cut re-offending by banning criminals from certain places or from contacting particular people for up to five years.

But the Howard League for Penal Reform said it feared they could be overused and counterproductive.

Ministers have also announced £3.2m of funding for victims of sexual assault.

The measures are part of an updated strategy by the government to tackle violent crime and were contained in the 2008 Criminal Justice and Immigration Act.

Under the terms of VOOs, serious offenders who have reached the end of their prison sentences or licence can be banned from places, events, and from contacting specified people for between two and five years.

They must also tell police if they move home, change their name, or go abroad.

Breaking the terms of a VOO could be punishable by five years in prison.

They can actually make it more likely that someone will reoffend, not less likely
Andrew Neilson
Howard League for Penal Reform

Police can apply to a magistrates' court to grant a VOO for any offender who has served at least 12 months in prison for offences including manslaughter, attempted murder or grievous bodily harm.

Policing Minister David Hanson said: "Violent crime can have a devastating effect on victims and on communities.

"Violent Offender Orders are a valuable tool to help protect the public and disrupt offending behaviour."

West Mercia Chief Constable Paul West said they would help deal with offenders who were "no longer subject to any statutory supervision, but nevertheless are still deemed to pose a risk of serious violent harm".

'Covering their backs'

But Andrew Neilson from the Howard League said he had concerns about the idea.

"Our experience of these civil orders, as with Asbos, is that we are told they will be used in a minimal way, but then over the years they seem to be overused in every way possible by agencies who are covering their backs," he told the BBC News website.

"One of the reasons our prison population is growing so rapidly is because many of the people in there have broken the terms of these sorts of orders.

Initiatives like this need proper training, implementation and evaluation if they are to be worthwhile
Deborah McIlveen
Women's Aid

"Our other worry is that they can be counterproductive. They can actually impose restrictions that make it more likely that someone will reoffend, not less likely.

"For example, restrictions that prevent someone gaining employment, when we know that getting a job is one of the best ways to prevent reoffending."

Deborah McIlveen, from domestic violence charity Women's Aid, said that while the initiative was welcome, it would remain to be seen how consistently and effectively it would be implemented across the country.

"There are already procedures in place to protect victims, but they are not always followed by police and other justice agencies," she said.

"For example, ex-partners of offenders should always be told when they are released from prison, but they're not.

"Initiatives like this need proper training, implementation and evaluation if they are to be worthwhile."

Centre funding

Papers outlining the new strategy also reveal ministers are considering teaching children about domestic violence in schools.

It will form part of a government bid to tackle violence against women and girls to be launched later this year.

More should be done to keep people out of prison
Leslie Jarrett, Slough

Mr Hanson, who visited St Mary's Sexual Assault Referral Centre (SARC) in Manchester on Wednesday, revealed that £1.67m will be spent to help establish eight new SARCs.

He said: "We have some very positive announcements today and it builds on the success the government has had in supporting victims of rape.

"We have a greater number of convictions than ever before. I think we have great prospects of looking at how we can improve the convictions and make the system more effective for victims in the future."

The money will also support 15 existing SARCs and fund 43 independent sexual violence advisers to offer practical support for victims of sexual violence.

Solicitor general, Vera Baird: "Reporting of rape is going up"

SARCs provide victims of sexual assault with medical care and counselling.

A further £1.6m has been allocated to 39 organisations which are members of Rape Crisis England & Wales and The Survivors' Trust.

These charities provide specialist services, such as counselling and advocacy, to women and men who have been raped or experienced sexual violence.

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