Tough for sex offenders in Cessnock jail

THE state's rapists and paedophiles will have to complete an "in-your-face" course for up to a year at the start of their jail terms at a purpose-built facility at Cessnock jail or remain in maximum security for the duration of their sentences.

All sex offenders will be given the option of spending eight hours a day at counselling and group therapy sessions to confront their crimes in a plan to reduce reoffending.

The secure wing inside the new, $97 million, 250-bed addition to Cessnock jail is due to take its first inmates in July.

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The program will be the first of its type in Australia.

If inmates refuse to take part in the program they face spending their entire sentence under maximum security conditions as well as unfavourable recommendations at parole hearings.

Corrective Services Commissioner Ron Woodham said research had shown a 70 per cent reduction in reoffending when sex offenders completed the course, which can run for between six and 12 months.

"Sex offenders will no longer be able to float through the system and do the course at the end of a lengthy jail term," Mr Woodham said.

"This is about making them complete this course early on when they are first taken into custody in an effort to get them to address their offending behaviour and reduce the chances of them committing the same crimes upon release."

Up to 40 sex offenders will be housed separately in five-square-metre cells at any one time and will have limited interaction.

The inmates will be woken at 6am. They can have a maximum seven-minute shower, eat their breakfast and clean before going to eight hours of intensive sessions.

They will spend about 16 hours a day in their cells as part of normal maximum security arrangements.

In the past, sex offenders had been able to opt when and if they underwent sex therapy sessions and could apply for minimum security arrangements before they completed any courses.

Department of Corrective Services Cessnock and Lower Hunter Cluster general manager David Mumford said all sex offenders would be given the opportunity to take part in the program.

"We can't force them to attend but what we can do is not allow them to progress any further through the correctional system until they have completed the program," Mr Mumford said.

"So the carrot really is to participate to address their offending behaviour and to understand that the offending, in terms of sexual-related offences upon adults and children, is something that the community do not want and will not tolerate."

Two psychiatrists will be on hand for every 12 inmates, stopping manipulative offenders from choosing their own therapy.

"It really prohibits the chance for manipulation and to ensure that they do address their offending behaviour and are not sitting there telling what they think the psychologist wants to hear," Mr Mumford.

The unit will be part of a new, 250-bed addition to Cessnock jail, which, with a capacity for 802 inmates, will be the biggest prison outside of Sydney.

There will be public open days on March 31 and April 1.

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