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The Effectiveness of Sex Offender Treatment Programs – Robert Tronge

In January of 1989, before the sex offender hysteria hit the legislative sector of our country, a study was conducted entitled 'Sex Offender Recidivism a Review', by the noted researchers L. Furby, M.R.Weinroth, and L. Blackshaw. Although the primary purpose of this study was to try and determine the actual recidivism of people who are involved in sex crimes what it secondarily discovered was the effectiveness of treatment programs or lack thereof I should say in reducing recidivism.. Realize that today most treatment programs that use behavior modification follow the same type of guidelines that were used during this time. They were basically drug and alcohol programs that were modified to treat people with what therapists perceived as sexual control problems.
Just exactly what is behavior modification treatment? It is the traditional term for the use of behavior altering techniques to increase or decrease the frequency of behaviors, such as altering an individual's behaviors and reactions to stimuli through positive and negative reinforcement. Such as the reduction of deviant behavior by using various punishments like shame and guilt as reinforcers. Behavior modification is now known as Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) and used in sex offender treatment programs it takes on a Clockwork Orange type of conditioning. Up to and including ammonium nitrate and electric shock, conditioning.  One important thing to note about the various behavioral therapies is that unlike some other types of therapy that are rooted in insight, such as psychoanalytic and humanistic therapies, behavioral therapy is action based. The problem is that Behavioral therapists focus on their perceptions of how a person should act. That is not based on any empirical data, and among other things uses aggressive confrontational therapy to force their viewpoints upon their clients. This is extremely true in cases where courts order treatment without knowing if the program is going to have a positive or negative consequences for the participants.

Although a lot of research has been done on the recidivism rates of sex offenders the Furby study was unique in that it sat down empirical guidelines. They looked at literally hundreds of other studies, most of which were thrown out because they did not follow proper scientific methodology. And as a result the Furby evaluation of these studies is considered as being the most extensive and meticulously analytical. One of the reasons for this being that they also included people who had received no treatment as a baseline for their other evaluations. What the Furby study found was that people placed on probation with no therapy were the least likely to re-offend, offenders sent to jail or prison also without therapy were rated second least likely to re-offend, and those who were mandated or forced to volunteer under threat of prison or jail time or were actually sentenced to behavior modification therapy were at least twice and as much as 10 times more likely to re-offend sexually and more likely to be involved in other types of violent crime at increased rates as well.

In the state funded study commissioned by the legislators of Oregon entitled, 'Sex Offenders in Oregon' by T K Martin & J L Hutzler, the Furby study was quoted as stating, "there is as yet no evidence that clinical treatment reduces the rate of sexual offenses." Furby and her colleagues other statement was omitted from the state report. It stated that, "the re-offense rate of treated offenders is not lower than that for untreated offenders, if anything it tends to be extremely higher."
Irwin S. Dreiblatt, Phd. of Pacific Psychological Services of Seattle Washington stated in the book, 'Retraining Adult Sex Offenders' - by Fay Honey Knopp, "I become concerned that we get carried away with the notion of treatment as the only response to sex offenders.  We get to far in viewing treatment as a universal response rather that a selected approach to appropriate individuals. One of the big changes in this big wave seems to be, 'Well, now we can do something for the sex offenders, let us get everybody into treatment.'  I'm scared about that approach... there are a lot of sex offenders whom we do not know what to do... I think the mental health community often oversells its product, and I think everyone needs to be cautious not to oversell... I am discouraged about the prospect of trying to provide treatment for everyone who comes along with the problem of sexual aggression."

Robyn M. Dawes in his book 'House of Cards Psychology and Psychotherapy Built on Myth', stated "A person who claims that a treatment is effective must demonstrate that it has an effect in comparison to a hypothetical counter-factual, obtained through construction of a randomly constituted control group." Such randomized experiments are very necessary in evaluating treatments for emotional disorders and one of the best such experiments is what is called a 'Wait List Control'.  This was used in the Florida Department of Health and Rehabilitative study from 1984. In this research it was discovered that the people who had completed treatment re-offended sexually at 13.6% and other crimes at 18.6%.  Those who did not complete treatment re-offended sexually at 6.5% and 12.9% for other crimes. And those that were on the list, but did not get into treatment re-offended sexually at 5% and in other crimes at 0%.  Essentially it shown that the more the treatment, the more the criminal activity!
Does this mean that all treatment programs increase recidivism rather than reduce it? Maybe, there are some that use a humanistic approach though which focuses on self-awareness and self-management rather than probe the traumas of the past or attempt to reduce deviant behavior through behavior modification.  One such program was the Child Sexual Abuse Treatment Program  (CSATP) from Santa Clara county, California. (It must be pointed out that the study's from this program did not meet the strict requirements for the 'Furby' evaluation.) According to the (CSATP) data from 1971 to 1982 they treated over 12,000 individuals, both victims and offenders. More clients than any other single agency in its field.  Jean M. Goodwin in her book 'Sexual Abuse' (1989), stated that, "the CSATP was rated the best program in the country with a maintained re-offense rate of less than 1%."  This, without failing or removing people from the program. Only through a personal choice can a person change his or her direction in life not by being forced in to it by anyone else. This is and will remain the primary reason that mandated therapy, especially when it includes the threat of one being booted from the program and/or being forced to face additional years in prison unless they parrot back what the therapist thinks is the appropriate responses, is at the root of problem.

In the Romero & Williams publication, 'A Ten-Year Follow-Up of Sex Offender Recidivism', the psychiatrist rated the members of the treatment group and then later their arrest records were looked into also. The ones rated best re-offended at 50%, those second best at 69.8%, and those that the psychiatrist rated as doing worst in their treatment group re-offended at 35%. quite obviously these trained professionals are more fixated on people parroting back what they believe to be the correct answers than actually helping people. The therapists over seeing treatment programs are in control of others lives and in order to gain even more control they continue to feed the Criminal Justice System and the public misleading information.  This type of thinking in anybody else the therapist would call diversion, justification and minimization.

As for non-treated offenders During September 1998, the Research Unit of the Arizona Department of Corrections (ADC) completed an 'analysis' of sex offenders released from ADC custody over the ten-year period from July 1988 through June 1998. 2,444 sex offenders were released from ADC custody over the ten-year period. The average period of follow-up (to June 30, 1998) for all sex offenders was 54.5 months. While sex offenders returned to prison for a variety of new crimes, 78 of the 2,444 or 3.2% returned for a new felony sex offense within ten years, that is 3/10 of 1 percent per year. The Jacks study in 1962 that looked into non-treated offenders showed the re-offense rate of 3.7% over 15 years, that's 2/10 of 1% per year... This must be used as the base line as laid out by Robyn Dawes.  Any treatment program with a re-offense rate higher then 3.7% for a 15 year period must be consider a failure of the program not the individuals in it.

According to the US Supreme court in Vitck vs Jones, "While a conviction and sentence extinguish an individual's right to freedom from confinement for the term of the sentence, they do not authorize the state to classify him as mentally ill and subject him to involuntary psychiatric treatment without affording additional due process protections."  And in Ohlinger vs Watson, the court declared that the, "Appellants had a constitutional right to such individual treatment as would give each of them a realistic opportunity to be cured or to improve his or her mental condition." and "rehabilitative rationale is not only desirable, but it is constitutionally required " plus "adequate and effective treatment is constitutionally required".  In 'Griswold v. Connecticut' the court stated "Various guarantees create zones of privacy. The right of association contained in the penumbra of the First Amendments one we have seen... . Fifth Amendment in its self-incrimination clause enables the citizen to create a zone of privacy which government may not force him to surrender to his detriment.  The Ninth Amendment provides: the enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people."  The 4th and 5th Amendments were described in Boyd v. United States, as "Protection against all governmental invasions of the sanctity of a man's home and the privacies of life."  And in Stanley v. Georgia, Mr. Justice Marshall delivered the opinion of the court which included this noteworthy remark, "Our whole constitutional heritage rebels at the thought of giving government power to control men's minds." But all this case law and precedence goes out the window when it comes to sex offender legislation and the people it targets because sex offenders are not viewed as people and thus the common consensus is that they have no rights. Coercing and forcing sex offenders on probation into behavioral treatment programs in the community and in prison is showing total indifference to the  concept of the Bill of Rights and the Federal Constitution  as well as the needs and rights of offenders, victims and society as a whole.

It needs to be pointed out that the criminal justice authorities of a state have in their power the ability to curb or exacerbate the self destructive cycle of dysfunctional individuals. Reacting irrationally and with overly harsh punishments, restrictions and requirements only perpetuates the cycle of deviant behavior, and does nothing to stop it.  Richard Seely, director of the Intensive Treatment Program for Minnesota Security Hospital contends that punishment is a reinforcer for sex offenders and in this case the punishment used as a reinforcer is the offenders own shame, his own blame, and his own grief. While one should feel ashamed of their deviant behavior, accept the blame for their actions, and feel grief over their actions and the consequences, perpetually shaming, blaming and expecting the now former offender to live in grief is counterproductive and serves no purpose. Perpetuating shame, guilt, and blame only increases the risk of re-offense and likely played a role in the offending behavior in the first place... There is probably no more ashamed group of criminals than sex offenders, thus using the shame, blame, guilt model as punishment and in treatment just tends to exacerbate it and is unnecessary. Behavioral programs based on this shame and blame model force the offender to accept responsibility for all the problems everyone he has had contact with have or will have.  Everything that has happened or will happen, is the offender's fault.  He is not even able to look to his past for answers without being accused of making excuses or not accepting responsibility for his actions.  No matter what, it's his fault, and he is to blame for everything. Any one with reasonable intelligence can see that this in its self adds to the confusion, anger and frustration. The criminal justice system needs to stop forcing people into treatment programs that are doing more harm than good and are violating the basic concepts of individual freedom guaranteed to every American citizen by the Bill of Rights and the Constitution.

Robert George Tronge, Robert G Tronge, Robert Tronge

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