Police have warned that proposed cuts to housing related support funding would make West Sussex less safe.
The county council plans to cut the £6.3m budget to £2.3m by 2020/21 - a move it has been told would lead to an increase in deaths among rough sleepers.
It will not be possible to monitor and manage the risks they pose to those who are the most vulnerable and it is of grave concern that funding is proposed to cease
Now the police have added their concerns, with Police & Crime Commissioner Katy Bourne giving a stark warning about the hundreds of sex offenders currently supported and monitored on their release from prison.
In her response to the council’s consultation into the proposals, Mrs Bourne said: “Accepting not all but many of these offenders use the services currently provided, facilitating a range of support and essential need, it is highly probable that, without this provision, sex offenders will be released directly into the community without accommodation and support.
“Consequently, it will not be possible to monitor and manage the risks they pose to those who are the most vulnerable and it is of grave concern that funding is proposed to cease.”
At a meeting of the health and adult social care select committee, in Chichester, Mark Burden, acting head of the national probation service for Sussex, said there were 905 registered sex offenders and violent offenders under supervision in West Sussex.
Another 300 offenders are due to be released between January and June.
Mr Burden said: “I don’t think I’ve experienced a time as critical for accommodation issues for offenders as we are experiencing now.”
Describing supported housing as ‘absolutely crucial’ to the rehabilitation of offenders, he added: “There’s also a very clear public safety aspect to it.
“This is difficult sometimes for people to hear - I don’t like to publicise these kind of things - but we do have extremely dangerous, difficult offenders in West Sussex.
“The probation service does provide approved premises accommodation on initial release for offenders - but there is a limited time they can be there.
“They need to move on. And these are individuals that, yes, present a risk to the public, but also have very complex needs as well that cannot be ignored. They need to be addressed.”
Stressing the public protection role provided by the services used, Mr Burden gave an example which saw police informed that a convicted rapist had breached his curfew.
Because the man was being monitored, they were able to rearrest him.
Mr Burden added: “There is absolutely no question in my mind that the risk to the public from sexual offenders will increase if this kind of provision, especially around the supported housing, is lost.”
The final decision about the proposed cuts is due to be made later this month by Amanda Jupp (Con, Billingshurst) cabinet member for adults and health.
Mrs Jupp said she was ‘particularly disappointed’ by Mrs Bourne’s response to the consultation.
She said: “I think the police have responsibilities too, and I say that the probation service and the Ministry of Justice have responsibilities too.
“They should not be putting it all on our doorstep.”
Mrs Jupp added: “This is a decision that I really don’t want to take and really have not enjoyed.
“But I have done my utmost to engage with everybody.
“What I would like to see is everybody coming to the table and saying, yes let’s see what we can put in to make this better.”
Committee chairman Bryan Turner (Con, Gaisford) called the police concerns ‘quite frightening’.