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Study suggests changes to sex offender management

Published: 3 March 2020 at 14:00

Blue light on a police car

Evaluation of ARMS will help police and probation services improve working

An independent evaluation has recommended ways to improve reliability and effectiveness of a tool designed to manage risk associated with sex offenders returning to society.

The Active Risk Management System (ARMS), introduced in 2014, is used by police and the National Probation Service (NPS) to manage the UK’s 58,000 registered sex offenders in the community. It is now in use across all 43 police forces and all seven National Probation Service divisions in England and Wales.

The tool was designed to differentiate between risk levels of offenders in order to allocate resources appropriately – particularly important when supervising those offenders who are subject to licence conditions or required to notify police of their movements or change of address.

The two-year evaluation into the effectiveness of the ARMS tool was carried out by Anglia Ruskin University (ARU) and the researchers have recommended that ARMS be redeveloped to take into account real-world practicalities and resources associated with offender management.

Among the concerns uncovered by researchers from the Policing Institute for the Eastern Region (PIER) at ARU was that ARMS – which aims to offer a more holistic concept of risk that takes into account a number of factors in each individual case – is time-intensive and a drain on the workloads of officers from both agencies, which can result in its use being diluted.

Another difficulty was the continued prioritisation of another risk assessment tool, OASys, by the NPS, creating difficulties in implementing ARMS and leading to strained working relationships between the NPS and the police.

Researchers have also recommended that a further, more comprehensive pilot should be completed before variations of the tool, for use for female and juvenile sexual offenders, are implemented nationally.

Dr Natalie Mann, Principal Investigator for PIER, said:

“This research has demonstrated that ARMS has standardised policing practice in sex offender management. However, year-on-year increases in the numbers of registered sexual offenders as well as the effects of austerity on the policing budget and staff numbers, has changed how ARMS was intended to be used, which has negatively impacted its effectiveness. 

“Despite being designed for use by both the police and the National Probation Service, ARMS has not been successfully integrated into NPS use. The fact that the NPS adopted the tool 18 months after the police made it more difficult to secure best practice in joint-agency working. In addition, the continued prioritisation of OASys over ARMS, has created difficulties in implementing it.”