ICCA recognizes that few crimes generate the same level of public concern as occurs with sexual offenses. We join the public at large, state and federal policymakers, and agencies of the criminal justice system in promoting a common goal to reduce victimization and to keep communities safe from sexual offenses.
There is a universal and strong reaction to sex crimes and to the individuals who commit these crimes. And while sexual offenders typically serve relatively long prison sentences, most are eventually released to the community under supervision (60% of the 265,000 under correctional control). In order to create and maintain safer communities, the criminal justice and behavioral health systems must work together to control, treat and manage sexual offenders in the community.
ICCA supports the significant advances that have been made in the field of sex offender management in recent years. There are interventions and strategies demonstrated through research to be effective in reducing risk and recidivism in this group of offenders and in providing much greater protection to the public. Additionally, ICCA supports continuing research on explicit evidence-based treatment approaches with this challenging population.
Driven by misinformation, fear of victimization, and pressure from citizens, new laws, penalties, and regulations regarding sexual offenders continue to grow at a high rate. Laws continue to be enacted which increase the length of prison sentences, increase requirements for registration and community notification, and limit where sexual offenders can live. Over the past few decades, prison sentences (and/or length of time served) for persons convicted of sexual offenses have become longer and community supervision may be ordered for life. State prison populations show steady growth in the numbers of sexual offenders incarcerated. The Bureau of Justice Assistance reports that 12% of all state prison inmates are sexual offenders; in some states sexual offenders make up 30% of prison inmates.
The public believes a number of myths about sexual offenders that are not supported by facts such as: they recidivate at high rates, they target strangers, and that sexual crimes are on the rise. In fact, the Bureau of Justice Statistics reports that just 5.3% of sexual offenders are convicted of another sex crime within three years after their release; most sex crimes are committed by a person known to the victim; and the rates of sexual offending have fallen by 25% over the past 20 years (FBI crime statistics). The actual effectiveness of increases in sentences, monitoring, and restrictions on preventing sexual offending has not been demonstrated. Recidivism rates for sexual offenders are stable, regardless of the length of incarceration. There is a comprehensive list of “Myths and Facts About Sexual offenders” on the Center for Sex Offender Management website.
Collateral consequences can and do exist for all offenders, and sexual offenders face more of these barriers than others when transitioning from incarceration to community living. They face community opposition which can lead to increased barriers to employment and housing, which can in turn compromise their living stability and ability to participate in appropriate treatment options.
Housing is a troubling issue with regard to sexual offenders. We know that housing instability begets housing insecurity (Herbert, et al 2015), and that housing insecurity is paramount among sexual offenders. Protective factors against homelessness such as employment and social supports, are also problematic for this population. Significant collateral sanctions related to housing include: the lifetime ban from public housing or vouchers for subsidized housing; conditions of supervision which preclude housing options such as not in proximity to minors or their victim; and community notification requirements. Notably, these last two (residence restrictions and community notifications) have not been found effective at either promoting rehabilitation or increasing the safety of communities (Socia, 2011). There are promising examples of Shared Living Arrangements (SLA) that have proven successful for those convicted of sexual offenses. Studies of SLA programs in Colorado and the state of Washington have found significant benefits: significantly fewer violations; shortest time between violation and discovery; increased stability and accountability; positive peer support; and affordability. This appears to be a highly favorable model, worthy of further consideration.
Research does confirm that sex offender treatment is associated with reduced recidivism among these individuals. A report by Dr. Karl Hanson, Solicitor General Canada and a respected researcher on sexual offender treatment, concludes that, “On average, sexual offenders who received treatment were less likely to re-offend than offenders who did not receive treatment. Current treatments were associated with a significant reduction in both sexual recidivism (from 17% to 10%) and general recidivism (51% to 32%). Treatment that appeared effective was cognitive-behavioral treatments for adult sexual offenders.” There are more recent indications that effective strategies related to risk need to consider statutory offenders and where they fit along the continuum. Not all treatment was equally effective. Sexual offenders are not a homogeneous group, and this needs to be incorporated into policy and practice. More work needs to be done to identify truly effective practices which relate to risk.
III. STATEMENT OF PRINCIPLES
The primary goals for managing sexual offenders in the community are public safety, protection of victims and the community, and effective treatment options. Sexual offenders can be safely managed in the community by utilizing a comprehensive approach that combines supervision, treatment, polygraph testing and behavioral monitoring. This comprehensive approach requires close communication and collaboration among many stakeholders including all levels of staff within the criminal justice system, behavioral health system, and law enforcement.
While the public tends to view all sexual offenders as high risk, reality does not support this. Some sexual offenders do represent a greater threat to public safety than others and that risk can be measured. The correctional and correctional treatment systems should identify these higher risk individuals and use differential supervision, containment, and treatment strategies to most effectively address this population. Distinctions between lower and higher risk sexual offenders should be accurate and based on scientific findings rather than on politics or public misperceptions. This differential approach to managing sexual offenders according to the risk they pose to the public, applying closer supervision and more intensive evidence-based treatment to those most likely to re-offend, will result in the greatest protection to the community. This approach is also more cost-effective: public resources are concentrated where they will produce the greatest effect on public safety.
ICCA concurs with the principles of the American Correctional Association: sexual offenders should be managed based on the body of knowledge that has been developed [and is developing] regarding the effective supervision of sexual offenders and according to their specific risk issues. Sex offender management in the community should include protection of and assistance for crime victims and their families, including access to appropriate treatment programs.
Sex offender management in the community requires a multi-disciplinary approach that includes supervision and monitoring combined with comprehensive case management and specialized sex offender treatment. Collaborators should include corrections, sex offender treatment providers, other service providers (cognitive skills, family counseling, substance abuse treatment), polygraph, victim advocates, and law enforcement.
A comprehensive and ongoing assessment process using empirically based instruments developed specifically for sexual offenders to determine the level of risk for recidivism should be established. Multiple assessments to objectively identify the risk to re-offend sexually and the risk to commit non-sexually based crimes should be used. Acute dynamic risk factors should also be routinely assessed. These factors can change rapidly and can signal the need for immediate intervention.
Treatment and supervision practices should vary with the risk level of the offender. Higher intensity supervision and treatment should be focused on higher risk offenders. Low risk and high risk offenders should not be mixed in the same treatment groups.
The management approach should include a relapse prevention component that promotes a self-management program for the offender, specialized conditions of supervision tailored to the offender’s risk areas and use of a community network to assist in monitoring behavior linked to relapse.
Treatment programs should be designed following the practice standards set by the Association for the Treatment of Sexual Abusers (ATSA).
Treatment programs should use evidence-based approaches proven to be effective with sexual offenders. Treatment targets are research-based, treatment is individualized, providers are well trained and supervised, and programs are monitored and evaluated.
Include victim-centered components. Services and resources should be offered to crime victims to reduce trauma. Include the victim’s perspective in supervision and release decisions, include victim empathy components in treatment, and conduct victim notification and safety planning.
Community Corrections staff assigned to work with sexual offenders should be trained in managing sexual offenders; should employ a balanced approach of surveillance, monitoring, and treatment; should base the intensity of supervision on measured risk to re-offend; and should consistently hold offenders accountable by responding to all violations.
Restrictions placed on where sexual offenders can live combined with community attitudes about sexual offenders contribute to a lack of stable housing options. Plan for appropriate housing for sexual offenders. Homeless sexual offenders face additional barriers to successful reintegration and are therefore difficult to supervise, monitor, and treat effectively, resulting in potential risk to public safety.
Correctional policy regarding sex offender sentencing, regulation, supervision, monitoring, and treatment should be based on science and should be expected to demonstrate results.
Reviewed and adopted by the ICJA Board of Directors Date:October 5, 2018