The Challenges of Sexual Offense Treatment Programs in Correctional Facilities

Article excerpt

This article addresses issues surrounding the organizational planning and evaluation of specialized sex offender treatment programs in secure correctional environments. The authors describe the problems of designing and establishing a therapy program in an anti-therapeutic environment and techniques for maintaining treatment integrity through the adoption of a structured planning and review process. Educating the public about program clientele and the development of relationships with local policymakers and community-based agencies through networking and public relations plays an influential role in the success or failure of any treatment program by ensuring the accuracy of information and preventing rumors regarding risk to the community. Program evaluation assists in the measurement of program efficacy, provides tangible proof of success or failure, and facilitates the improvement of programming and services.

The challenges to the development and administration of specialized treatment programs in correctional facilities are numerous but not insurmountable. The environment of a correctional facility emphasizes security and control, which is often in opposition to or in conflict with the goals of treatment programs. This conflict inevitably influences the implementation of services and the ability of treatment to successfully reduce risk of reoffending. This article describes some of the challenges faced in the development, administration and evaluation of sexual offense treatment programs in a correctional environment and offers potential solutions.

Clinical and staff considerations

Despite the growing body of research on theories and methods of sexual offense treatment, there is relatively little written about the practical impediments to providing this specialized treatment in correctional settings. Tay Bosley, one of the authors, is responsible for the implementation of assessment and treatment services for juveniles adjudicated delinquent for offenses of a sexual nature and committed to the state juvenile correctional system in a densely populated state on the East Coast. To accomplish oversight of these treatment services, monthly status reports are submitted describing the successes and difficulties in program implementation. For the purpose of this article, Dr. Bosley examined the monthly reports (particularly the sections describing program implementation problems) for specific issues and themes that emerged as problems in providing assessment and treatment services to this population.

Much of what is documented below is reminiscent of the implementation problems described by Gordon & Hover (1998) in their chapter on the Twin Rivers Sex Offender Treatment Program. Some of the major problematic themes include: Hiring and keeping competent clinical staff, establishing and maintaining adequate support services, obtaining and maintaining adequate infrastructure, dealing with an antitherapeutic milieu, and legal technicalities. Each theme is described in more detail below.

Selection and retention of staff

Selection of staff for any program is a difficult and ongoing process. Credentialing will not be discussed in detail in this article since most inpatient treatment programs are subject to clearly defined licensing or civil service standards. The treatment of sexual offenders is a specialized field and as such is rarely included in the curriculum of academic programs. Despite this, it is common that prospective staff members at all educational levels arrive with preconceived ideas about sexual offenders which generally arise from exposure to popular media. Therefore, it is common that untrained individuals believe sexual offenders cannot be treated and that nearly all sexual offenders will reoffend. Individuals who work in the field of sex offender treatment commonly hear statements to this effect made in the popular media and it is not uncommon to hear ostensibly well credentialed "experts" espouse such beliefs. …