I use the word 'former' advisedly, on the basis that Ferguson was convicted in Queensland and served time in prison there. He has completed the period of incarceration determined by the court. Not a nice man (and indeed a man who may deserve description by one tabloid as a "fiend ... Such vile criminals don't come much worse)" but he has met his obligations in terms of the justice system. As far as we know he has not re-offended.
In a newspaper item earlier this month Justice Action's spokesperson Brett Collins commented that
Justice Action watched him being hounded from town to town in Queensland and left without a refuge, despite his legal entitlement to be at liberty. Nobody, no organisation, and no authority with major resources was prepared to step in. Such social exclusion offended us an ex prisoner organisation claiming a link to the beginning of the penal colony. "We will shame them all and offer him a refuge" we decided. And we did. And have received the accolades of large sectors of the community ever since.It is so much easier (and profitable) to have a media circus and a succession of announcements by 'concerned' politicians, including those careful to fend off criticism that the Act is "not a win for vigilantes" and is intended to deal with a "one-off situation". The Premier thus huffed that "There is no place for vigilantism. People cannot take the law into their own hands". The people of course don't need to, if a politician will do it for them.
Sex offending is a serious community problem and the focus on vulnerable stereotypes like Dennis is a distraction. With the incidence of one female in four, and one male in eight being abused, it isn't the 22-year old crimes of Dennis we need to consider but those happening now. The public hysteria aroused by Dennis prevents children complaining. They feel they won't be believed as it is always the stranger who is the danger, not the 90 per cent that happen in the family home. And they know their family and themselves will be devastated by the exposure.
Sex offending needs attention by the family courts not the criminal courts. It needs sensitivity and privacy, with community and parental responsibility.
Ferguson has now been officially locked out of his public housing unit. NSW Housing Department officials, obliged under the Act to offer him alternative accommodation, have invited him to stay in offered a room outside Long Bay Prison - a room with a view? - that was controlled by the Department of Corrective Services.
The Housing Minister David Borger has meanwhile described the decision of his officials to grant Ferguson a public housing unit in the first place as "dopey". Surely public housing is an entitlement of all people in need, rather than just the nice ones?
One reader has rather quickly responded by pointing me to John Conley's 'Can You Talk Like a Lawyer and Still Think Like a Human Being?: Mertz's the Language of Law School' in 34 Law & Social Inquiry (2009) (available here). Talking like a lawyer, rather than like a shock jock, may of course allow all of us to think and live like human beings