Sex Offender Treatment: A Critical Management Tool

By Matson, Scott | Corrections Today, October 2002 | Go to article overview

Sex Offender Treatment: A Critical Management Tool


Matson, Scott, Corrections Today


Author's Note: Information for this article was taken from several Center for Sex Offender Management documents, including a forthcoming training curriculum and policy and practice brief on sex offender treatment. CSOM is a national training and technical assistance project sponsored by the US. Department of Justice's Office of Justice Programs, the National Institute of Corrections and the State Justice Institute.

Increasingly, criminal justice professionals are faced with the question of how best to manage known sex offenders within their jurisdictions. Although sex offenders may once have been regarded as among the easiest offenders to work with because of their social skills, educational and employment backgrounds, family and community ties, and day-to-day compliance levels, today, they are regarded as extraordinary management challenges by criminal justice professionals and treatment providers alike. Much has been learned in recent years about their offending patterns, risk of re-offense and treatment needs. This recognition has led to significant advances in both the supervision and treatment of such offenders, particularly during the past decade. What once may have been a debate about whether sex offenders should receive treatment has advanced to a discussion of how and when sex offenders should receive treatment.

It is clear that without careful monitoring and community support, treatment alone will not prevent a sex offender from re-offending. The most effective approaches to managing sex offenders in the community share several common characteristics, including a collaborative approach among those responsible for, or involved in, specialized supervision and treatment, intensive supervision using individually tailored case management plans, and a victim-centered philosophy. Coupled with sex offender specific treatment, these are critical elements to the management of sex offenders under community supervision.

This article describes current methods for treating sex offenders, the effectiveness of treatment, and the critical role of treatment in the larger context of sex offender management.

Element Of Effective Treatment

Beginning With a Focus on the Key Goal of Treatment. The objectives of sex offender-specific treatment are numerous, but typically involve breaking through denial; helping offenders accept responsibility for their crimes by confronting and correcting the thinking errors (or cognitive distortions) that allowed them to commit these crimes; developing empathy for victims by understanding the fear and trauma experienced as a result cf their actions; facilitating offenders' understanding of the sequence of events that led to their offense behavior and developing relapse prevention skills; establishing supervision conditions that minimize high-risk behaviors and situations; and identifying support networks, or those individuals in the community who might become part of an extended supervision network, such as family members and employers. These objectives are quite different from traditional mental health treatment. Unlike other forms of mental health treatment in which the goal is to reduce clients' distress and i mprove their well-being, the goal of sex offender treatment is to reduce offenders' likelihood of committing future crimes.

Making Treatment Available Across Correctional Settings. Sex offender treatment can occur in a variety of settings, including prison, mental health facilities, residential programs or in the community. Ideally, these offenders should receive specialized treatment regardless of their institutional or community placement. Fur- ther, sex offender treatment should be consistently administered; that is, the treatment offered in the institutional setting should complement what is offered in the community. Finally, using the most progressive approaches to sex offender treatment, institutional and community-based treatment programming are linked, assuring that treatment in one setting is firmly connected to treatment in another. …

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