What should happen to a released rapist?

Prison door opened Image copyright Thinkstock

Ched Evans's return to football has been met with a storm of protest. But how should rapists be treated when they leave jail?

The decision of Sheffield United to allow convicted rapist Ched Evans back for training has been widely condemned. A petition - started by Twitter user Jean Hatchet - demanding the club refuse to sign Evans has been signed by 160,000 people.

Evans was freed last month after serving two-and-a-half years for raping a woman who a jury found was too drunk to give consent. Evans maintains his innocence and his family have set up a website to campaign. He has already been denied leave to appeal.

Sheffield United, Evans's employer at the time of the court case, said the Professional Footballers Association had asked it to let him come back to train. "According to the request, this training would be with a view to enabling Mr Evans to get back to a level of fitness, which might enable him to find employment in his chosen trade."

Those who defend the club say if Evans was engaged in any ordinary trade or profession, it would be accepted that he should be allowed to find employment. But much of the criticism of the club has been pointing out that professional sport is not like any other trade.

Image copyright PA
Image caption Ched Evans maintains his innocence

As the petition put it: "To even consider reinstating him as a player... is a deep insult to the woman who was raped and to all women like her who have suffered at the hands of a rapist. The clear message to young boys and men is that you will be forgiven for this crime."

Rapists in England and Wales usually serve half their sentence in prison, and the rest under licence in the community. Once out they will have to meet licence conditions, says Christopher Stacey, director at Unlock, a charity that works with people who have criminal convictions.

They will have regular meetings with the probation service. If they want to return to work or leave the country, they will need the permission of their probation officer. Special conditions can apply - they may be banned from certain places and people.

Any sex offender punished with a two-and-a-half year jail sentence also goes on the Sex Offenders Register. They remain on there "for life", although it can be reviewed after 15 years. Being on the register means that people have to report to the police every year giving information about foreign travel, bank details and if they have a person under 18 in the house.

The general principle of rehabilitation in England and Wales is that after a set period of time, a previous prison sentence is "spent" and does not need to be revealed and it is illegal for employers to rule someone out on this basis.

But a sentence of more than four years is never spent - and Evans was sentenced to five years.

And certain offences, including rape, prevent people from doing particular jobs known as "regulated activity", says Stacey. The jobs include teacher, social worker, many in the NHS - all posts that involve working with children or vulnerable adults.

Footballers in jail

Marlon King - striker who played for teams including Watford, Middlesbrough and Birmingham City. Currently serving 18-month jail sentence following conviction for dangerous driving - his third, following previous jail terms for sexual assault and handling a stolen car.

Lee Hughes - former West Bromwich Albion player, handed a six-year jail sentence in 2004 for causing death by dangerous driving; in 2012 he was fined £500 for common assault.

Graham Rix - former Arsenal player, and later coach at Chelsea, jailed for 12 months in 1999 for underage sex.

Some jobs - accountant, solicitor, vet - are not on the regulated activity list but still require an enhanced criminal record check from the Disclosure and Barring Service (formerly known as an enhanced CRB check). Here it would be up to the employer's discretion.

Many employers will have a box to tick on a job application relating to criminal record. And any employer can do a basic criminal records check where a four-year sentence or more would show up. They then legally have the right to refuse a person.

There is a stigma attached to employing ex-offenders. Dianah Worman, a policy advisor at the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, says there are benefits to the employer. "An ex-offender is more likely to be a loyal employee than the average [worker] because it's so hard to get a job for them."

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But there is a much bigger stigma attached to sex offenders. It would be a hard sell for many companies. Key cutting firm Timpson is a noted employer of ex-offenders, although James Timpson, son of chairman John, has been quoted as saying the firm does not employ sex offenders.

Yet these people have served their sentence, says Stacey. "Clearly people like Ched Evans have to go somewhere. He's back in our world." If they are to become useful members of society again it makes sense to let them work at what they are good at, he argues. A quarter of people on jobseekers allowance have a criminal record. Ex-offenders are more likely to reoffend if they're out of work.

Evans's case is not typical. He is a famous footballer. Many argue that footballers are role models. They are well paid - reports suggest he once earned £20,000 a week - and in exchange clubs should not employ people who have committed serious crimes, especially if they show no remorse, the critics argue. Television presenter Charlie Webster summed up this view when she resigned as a Sheffield United patron over the club's actions. "He's not just going into a job, he's bandied as a role model, we cheer him on as a role model and he's influencing the next generation of young men who are currently still making their decisions on how to treat women and what sexual mutual consent is."

It is also an argument that Jason Burt made in the Daily Telegraph. "No-one is saying that Evans 'can't do anything'. He can work again; he can re-join society; he is a young man; he can contribute and integrate and get on with his life." But he has sacrificed his chance to live the gilded life of a professional footballer, he argued.

Stacey disagrees. Once society starts specifying the type of jobs a rapist can do on top of the legally proscribed ones, it is heading in a "dangerous" direction. The jobs listed under regulated activity are about protecting people, not about punishing offenders again. "People make mistakes. As co-workers or neighbours or friends we should focus on the real risks of employing people rather than the perceived risks. Are they the best person for the job?"

Times columnist Matthew Syed says society should not be handing out extra-judicial punishment. "Why should we deny a footballer a return to employment if we would not deny a plumber?" Money is a red herring, he argues. "The point here is that the very concept of rehabilitation is undermined if we try to rig the world against those we have already punished. After all, why would anyone wish to change if they know they are never going to be given a decent shot?"

Image copyright Thinkstock
Image caption Teaching - one of the jobs barred to former sex offenders

But criminologist David Wilson, who worked on sex offender treatment while a governor at HMP Grendon, is more cautious. The desire to rehabilitate them always has to be balanced against the need to keep their colleagues safe. In the case of giving a job to a convicted rapist, how would a manager keep female colleagues safe?

"If I was in that position, I would not employ a convicted rapist - I just feel that that is a particularly heinous crime and a crime of violence and I would not want to put any female employee potentially in harm's way."

He suggests that a job where they are self-employed, or will only encounter adults of a gender who they have not offended against are best.

Managers who do employ sex offenders should watch out for potential risky situations - when the employee is "drunk and elated", lonely or depressed.

There are few stories of serious sex offenders who have got fulfilling jobs, either because they have kept their crimes a secret or because there are few such turnarounds.

Graham Rix, the former Chelsea coach who was jailed after having sex with a 15-year-old, was reinstated by the club after release. He subsequently managed Portsmouth, Oxford and Hearts - being sacked each time - but found even low-profile work hard to come by in recent years. "I'm still on the lookout, I want something to happen and I've applied for so many jobs, so many jobs," he told the Independent last year.

Campaigners on sexual violence point out Evans has shown no remorse for his behaviour. The victim - 19 when she was raped - has had to leave her home town and change her identity after being named and attacked on social media, they say.

Wilson says this matters. "I would find somebody who found it difficult to accept the word of a court impossible to work with on any kind of sex offender treatment programme."

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Additional reporting by Tom Heyden

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