Academic journal article The International Journal of Behavioral Consultation and Therapy

Putting the "Community" Back in Community Risk Management of Persons Who Have Sexually Abused

Academic journal article The International Journal of Behavioral Consultation and Therapy

Putting the "Community" Back in Community Risk Management of Persons Who Have Sexually Abused

Article excerpt

Our communities continue to express significant concerns regarding the long-term risk posed to public safety by persons who sexually offend. Accordingly, governments have enacted legislation intended to mitigate those risks. Many of these legal responses (referred to as measures of "official" or "social" control throughout this review) have resulted in longer sentences, increased supervision upon release, sexual offender civil commitment procedures, and other measures intended to strengthen offender accountability in the community. Notwithstanding the fact that sexual offender risk management is a contentious issue, policymaker and community stakeholders are increasingly concerned about what to do regarding elevated risks posed by "sexual predators" and "sexually violent predators" (i.e., those offenders at the higher end of the risk continuum). Accordingly, specialized measures have been applied in an attempt to both manage risk and calm the fears of the community.

This review examines various strategies aimed at facilitating long-term management of the risk posed by persons who sexually offend. This includes discussion of:

1. Current sentencing practices and the effects of incarceration

a. Principles of effective correctional interventions

2. Post-incarceration risk management strategies for higher risk offenders

a. Long-term or lifetime probation/supervision

b. Sexual offender civil commitment

3. Innovative community reintegration models

a. Circles of Support and Accountability

In each section, pertinent issues are highlighted and areas for further attention and discussion are suggested. We conclude with a general summary of the findings and suggest areas for continued focus, exploration, and discussion. Because the large majority of sexual offenders are male, this review uses masculine pronouns. This is not intended to suggest that problematic sexual behavior does not also occur among women, or that these behaviors do not also cause significant harm to those persons sexually abused by women. For those interested specifically in sexual offending committed by women, we suggest readers review Gannon and Cortoni (2010).

* Sentencing Practices

Over time, sentences for sexual offenders have increased in terms of length, and in terms of the percentage of offenders receiving custodial sentences versus community supervision as the primary sanction. Further, the degree and length of post-in-carceration risk management have also increased; many jurisdictions now have lengthy periods of sexual offender probation or even lifetime supervision. Twenty states and the federal government have also instituted post-sentence civil commitment of offenders adjudged to meet criteria for designation as sexually violent persons or predators (SVP).

Effects of Incarceration

Sentences for sexual and other offenses are typically longer in the United States than in other parts of the developed world. This may be a consequence of the US tendency to aggregate sentences consecutively for separate offenses, whereas other jurisdictions (e.g., Canada) tend to sentence offenders concurrently for offenses occurring within the same general period. There are important considerations to be made regarding the cost implications of sentencing practices, as well as whether these efforts are having the anticipated or desired effects on reoffending.

In an influential meta-analysis of 117 studies involving 442,471 subjects from various jurisdictions, Smith, Goggin, and Gendreau (2002) investigated correlations between recidivism and length of time incarcerated, type of sanction (institutional sentence vs. community-based monitoring and supervision), and imposition of an intermediate sanction (e.g., electronic monitoring, boot camps, drug testing). The following quote showcases this study's findings regarding the possible difficulties associated with using "sanction alone" as a deterrent against reoffending:

We are confident that, no matter how many studies are subsequently found, sanction studies will not produce results indicative of even modest suppression effects or results remotely approximating outcomes reported for certain types of treatment programs. …

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