The Registration and Monitoring of Sex Offenders: A Comparative Study

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Source: Olver, Wong and Nicholaichuk Positive treatment effects persisted after controlling for age and sexual offending history. In addition, survival analysis indicated that positive treatment effects persisted over time.

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Olver, Wong and Nicholaichuk , p. In conclusion, the present study provides empirical support to indicate that a high-intensity treatment program for moderate- to high-risk sex offenders that follows the "what works" principles can yield reductions in sexual recidivism in both the shorter- and longer-term, even after potentially confounding variables were controlled for. In short, treatment appeared to "work" for this group of sex offenders.

A recent study of prison-based sex offender treatment in Minnesota also found positive results. This study used propensity score matching to create the study's comparison group — a sophisticated statistical technique for achieving greater equivalence between the treatment and comparison offenders. The researchers examined recidivism outcomes for 1, sex offenders who received treatment while incarcerated and 1, matched comparison sex offender inmates who had not received treatment.

The average follow-up period was 9. After controlling for other factors, study results showed that participating in treatment significantly reduced the likelihood and pace of recidivism table 2. Source: Duwe and Goldman Other studies examining the effectiveness of prison-based treatment for sexual offenders also have found positive results.

McGrath and colleagues , for example, examined the recidivism rates of adult male sex offenders who were referred to a prison-based cognitive-behavioral treatment program. Fifty-six offenders completed treatment, 49 entered but did not complete treatment and 90 refused treatment services. The study subjects were similar in terms of their pretreatment risk for sexual recidivism. The researchers found a sexual recidivism rate of 5.

Far higher sexual recidivism rates were found for the offenders who did not complete treatment and for those who refused treatment: A study of a prison-based sex offender treatment program in Colorado also found positive results Lowden et al. The program employed a cognitive-behavioral approach within a therapeutic community environment. Results showed that participation in treatment was significantly related to success on parole.

Sex offenders who completed treatment and participated in aftercare had revocation rates three times lower than untreated sex offenders.

Each additional month spent in the therapeutic community increased the likelihood of success upon release by 1 percent 12 percent per year. Seventy-nine percent of inmates who participated in therapeutic community treatment and who were released on parole were arrest-free after three years, compared to 58 percent of former sex offender inmates released on parole who did not participate in treatment. Zgoba and Simon examined the effectiveness of prison-based treatment in New Jersey. Although results did not show a positive treatment impact on sexual recidivism, treatment was found to reduce nonsexual recidivism.

The study sample included treated offenders from the state's only sex-offender-specific prison. Sexual and nonsexual recidivism rates for the treated sex offenders were compared with those for a sample of sex offenders from the general prison population who did not receive treatment. All study subjects were released from prison during a three-year period — Based on this follow-up period, about 9 percent of the treated sex offenders were reconvicted of a sexual offense, compared to 8.

However, only Several studies concerning sex offender treatment have been conducted by the Washington State Institute for Public Policy. Under the sentencing alternative, certain felony sex offenders are granted, in lieu of imprisonment, a special sentence that involves some jail time, community supervision and outpatient treatment Barnoski, a.

The evaluation found that the sexual and violent crime recidivism rates for offenders granted a sentencing alternative were consistently lower than the rates for other types of sex offenders.

Registered Sex Offender, Your Life Is Going To Change

Barnoski b also examined the effectiveness of a prison-based sex offender treatment program in Washington that uses a combination of treatment techniques, including group therapy, psychoeducational classes, behavioral treatment and family involvement. The study found that the program did not reduce the recidivism rates of program participants.

Finally, Kriegman reanalyzed data from two studies that examined the recidivism rates of sex offenders. In summary, several single examinations designed to evaluate the effectiveness of treatment for adult sex offenders have been conducted in recent years. While only one of these studies employed an experimental design, the scientific rigor of recent research has improved relative to studies conducted years ago. Recent research more frequently employed matched comparison groups, statistical controls of factors that are linked to treatment effects, lengthier follow-up periods and propensity score matching.

One of the most influential early reviews of sex offender treatment outcome research was conducted by Furby, Weinrott and Blackshaw Based on a review of 42 individual studies, the researchers concluded that, due to methodological shortcomings and inconsistent findings, very little is known about the effectiveness of sex offender treatment. More recently, the U. General Accounting Office , now called the U. Government Accountability Office, published a review of sex offender treatment research based on 22 other reviews covering studies.

In this report, the office reported to Congress that definitive conclusions about the effectiveness of sex offender treatment could not be made.

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While both of these early reviews produced inconclusive results at best, systematic reviews conducted more recently have produced more positive, albeit qualified findings. Two exceptions to the pattern of recent positive review findings come from synthesis studies that examined the effectiveness of psychological interventions for sex offenders. It is important to note that both studies relied exclusively on findings from randomized controlled trials; evaluations that did not employ a randomized design were excluded from the analysis.

The first, a systematic review conducted by Kenworthy and colleagues , examined the findings from nine studies, all randomized controlled trials, and the researchers concluded that due to limited data the effects of treatment are unclear. The second, a meta-analysis of 10 studies again, all randomized controlled trials conducted by Dennis and colleagues also was unable to reach firm conclusions about the effectiveness of psychological treatment for sexual offenders.


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While the researchers did find some encouraging findings in two of the studies included in their meta-analysis, they stated that "the inescapable conclusion of this review is the need for further randomized controlled trials" , p. An earlier meta-analysis of 43 studies of psychological treatment for sex offenders conducted by Hanson and colleagues produced somewhat different results. Average follow-up periods ranged from one to 16 years, with a median of 46 months. Hanson and his colleagues found that treatment produced a small but statistically significant reduction in both sexual and overall recidivism.

In discussing their findings, Hanson and colleagues , p. The meta-analysis conducted by Hanson and colleagues was criticized by Rice and Harris for its reliance on poor-quality studies. Rice and Harris described the methodological shortcomings of many of the studies in the meta-analysis and argued that the positive, albeit tentative, conclusions drawn by Hanson and colleagues were not justified.

More broadly, Rice and Harris concluded, "…the effectiveness of psychological treatment for sex offenders remains to be demonstrated" p. While the Rice and Harris critique of the meta-analysis is a constructive and valuable treatise on threats to validity and the hazards of weak inference, it is important to recognize that the quality of a study and the credibility of its findings can be viewed differently by different researchers. As Beech and colleagues a, pp.

The problem facing the field of sex offender research is that the best studies identified by Rice and Harris , by Kenworthy et al. It was not that one group of researchers was more lenient or more restrictive than another concerning study quality; the problem is that most of the studies rated as credible by one group were considered inherently biased by the other groups. In fact, Craig, Browne and Stringer reported that 18 of the 19 treatment studies published between and demonstrated positive treatment effects, and a third of those used sound methodological techniques.

While there are well-constructed guidelines and tools available that promote objectivity and reliability in the assessment of methodological rigor, differences of opinion about the quality and scientific value of certain methods or individual studies are not uncommon.


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  • This tool is used to assess the methodological quality of a study along a number of dimensions, including the following:. Altogether, 69 independent studies and 22, subjects were included in the analysis, making it one of the largest meta-analyses of studies of the effectiveness of sex offender treatment ever undertaken. In 40 percent of the comparisons, equivalence between the group of study subjects who received treatment and the group of comparison subjects who did not receive treatment was either demonstrated or it could be assumed.

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    Nearly one-half of the comparisons in the analysis addressed cognitive-behavioral programs. About one-half were based on programs operating in an institutional setting. Significant differences between the recidivism rates of treated and untreated offenders were found see table 3. Unweighted average recidivism rates: 12 percent for treated and 24 percent for untreated.

    Average follow-up period: slightly more than 5 years. Among psychological treatments, however, cognitive-behavioral treatments and behavior therapy had significant treatment effects.

    Managing Sex Offenders in the UK: Challenges for Policy and Practice

    Treatment effects also were greater for sex offenders who completed treatment, as dropping out of treatment doubled the odds of recidivating. The most important message is an overall positive and significant effect of sex offender treatment…. Sex offender treatment also has an effect on general recidivism…. Obviously, effective programs do not just influence sexually motivated problem behavior but also have a broader impact on criminality. In addition to including more recent research, the update was based exclusively on studies with equivalent treatment and control groups.

    Overall, 29 eligible comparisons containing a total of 4, treated and 5, untreated sexual offenders were included in the analysis. Unlike the original study, all of the comparisons in the meta-analysis evaluated psychosocial treatment approaches, and most were cognitive behavioral programs. Treatment, offender and methodological characteristics also were examined to identify various factors that moderated treatment effectiveness.

    Although only 13 of the studies in the meta-analysis reported data on general recidivism, the researchers were able to conclude that treatment did indeed reduce both sexual and general offending. Treated offenders in the analysis had a general recidivism rate of Variation in the effects of treatment on sexual recidivism attributed to offender and program characteristics is discussed in the two paragraphs below. Methodological variation across the underlying studies in the meta-analysis did not influence observed effect sizes in a significant way.

    Arguably, one of the most important findings regarding the moderation of treatment effects was related to risk of offending. A strong linear relationship was found between offender risk levels and treatment effectiveness, as treatment effects increased as the risk levels of the offenders participating in treatment increased.

    Simply put, larger treatment effects were found for higher-risk offenders, while treatment for low-risk offenders was not effective at all. This finding comports with previous research demonstrating the importance of following the risk-need-responsivity model in the treatment of offenders who have sexually offended.

    Several other finding from the moderator analysis are noteworthy. First, while cognitive-behavioral treatment modalities yielded a significant reduction in sexual recidivism, other psychotherapeutic approaches did not. Second, treatment was equally effective for those who entered treatment on a voluntary or mandatory basis.

    This finding means that treatment initiated as a result of the external pressures of the criminal justice system can indeed be successful, and it "points to the important role of change motivation as a process e. And finally, although confounding variables may be at work, findings from the moderator analysis suggest that incorporating individual therapeutic sessions in the treatment format produces better recidivism reduction results.