Academic journal article International Journal of Criminal Justice Sciences

Community Based Management for Sex Offenders in the US: An Evidence Based Evaluation

Academic journal article International Journal of Criminal Justice Sciences

Community Based Management for Sex Offenders in the US: An Evidence Based Evaluation

Article excerpt


Social work practice with sexual offenders is not new. For example, the Philadelphia Child Guidance Clinic's Adolescent Sex Offender program has been an important training ground for graduate social work students in family therapy (Sefarbi, 1986). However, social work, as with society as a whole, has had an ambivalent relationship with the provision of care and community integration for Registered Sex Offenders (RSOs) (Lea, Auburn & Kibblewhite, 1999). As a profession that champions the rights and treatment of those who have been most oppressed and victimized, social work has, by and large, been more involved with victims' rights than with meeting the needs of RSOs. However, solely working with victims may not lead to social change and transformation, and does not decrease the likelihood that offenders will offend or reoffend. As such, the process of social change demands that social workers focus attention on the policy and practice issues regarding the perpetration of sexual offenses. This is especially true for community-based services, which clearly fall within the practice and policy domain of the profession.

Over the last two decades, the enactment of contemporary sex offender legislation has proliferated. Beginning in the early 1990s, sex offender registration and community notification (SORN) policies became the preferred state and federal level management tool for handling RSOs in our communities. Scholars argue that these laws were enacted despite the lack of evidence showing their effectiveness (Terry & Ackerman, 2009; Terry, 2011). However, research suggests that certain evidence-based practices may be effective in reducing recidivism and assisting former RSOs to live productive and meaningful lives.

In the following sections, we explore what is known about the provision of community based management, treatment, and support and services regarding RSOs. We present an exploration of various aspects of community based programming, not the evaluation of a comprehensive approach. While a handful of community based approaches for this population exist that utilize evidence-based practices, the vast majority of the literature on them focus almost exclusively on the need for and not the development of such programs and practices (Association for the Treatment of Sexual Abusers (ATSA), 2011; Center for Sex Offender Management (CSOM), 2000; 2009). For instance, CSOM (2009) and ATSA (2011) both provide frameworks for building community collaborations and list various important key players. This is an important first step, and elsewhere, Ackerman, Furman and Osborn (n.d.) address the nuanced approaches to building community collaboration. Though a few small collaborative community projects exist, the majority of current sex offender policy is limited in that it is broad in scope and potentially ineffective.

It is important to note that our claims regarding the paucity of research and evidence is based upon a comprehensive review of the literature. Toward this end, a thorough search of the literature, using relevant search terms was conducted. Search terms included Megan's Law, registration, community notification, sex offender, treatment, risk assessment, and community. Academic Search Complete, Google Scholar, PsychINFO, PsychARTICLES and Web of Science were utilized to conduct the search. The following section briefly discusses the limitations of current policies and explores why the collaborative framework is essential.

Legislative and Offender Based Limitations

The last two decades has brought about significant changes to the way RSOs are managed in our communities. Primarily, SORN policies were created in response to a few highly publicized cases where recidivist sex offenders committed heinous crimes against young children with whom they had no previous relationship. To date, all 50 states have SORN; however, scholars contend that these policies were implemented without research or evidence of their effectiveness (Terry & Ackerman, 2009; Terry, 2011). …

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