Monday, August 29, 2005

Sex Offenders

The other day, I sent out an email to friends pointing to a Justice Department web site publicizing facts vs. myths regarding sex offenders. Personally, I was very surprised at what I read, particularly reconviction rates and treatment success. Turns out, that reconviction rates run from 13% to 27%, depending on the category of offense.

In psychotherapeutic circles, it's commonly accepted that sexual perpetrators are "untreatable". Yet, the Justice Department has this to say about treatment:

Several studies present optimistic conclusions about the effectiveness of treatment programs that are empirically based, offense-specific, and comprehensive (Lieb, Quinsey, and Berliner, 1998). The only meta-analysis of treatment outcome studies to date has found a small, yet significant treatment effect—an 8% reduction in the recidivism rate for offenders who participated in treatment (Hall, 1995). Research also demonstrates that sex offenders who fail to complete treatment programs are at increased risk for both sexual and general recidivism (Hanson and Bussiere, 1998).
The "only studies"?

Seems like that psychotherpeutic attitude has penetrated to the treatment research circles too! That 8% may not seem like much, but remember that the reconvict rate is pretty low to begin with.

When I was a practicing psychotherapist, I had the experience of treating a couple of sexual offenders....let's call them Bobby and Jimmy. Bobby was 11 years old when he, and another 11 year old boy, were caught groping and touching each other in the school bathroom. After questioning (by a police officer in an isolated room with his gun showing, and without Bobby's mother present), Bobby admitted to the behavior. Despite arguments that Bobby wasn't mirandized (neither he or his mother was until after the questioning) he was convicted of a felony and listed as a sexual offender.

Jimmy was another dangerous character. He was about 8 years old when he was caught groping his niece. He too was convicted and became a card-carrying (yes, they have to carry a card) registered sex offender FOR LIFE. And as a part of the terms of probation, until he turned 18 Jimmy's parents were required to insure that he was under the supervision of an adult at all times he was around other children (doesn't sound like much, but think about it).

I know, I know. You may be saying to yourself, "self, there must be more to these stories". There isn't. These were ordinary boys...boys with some problems to be addressed for sure...but not dangerous sexual predators.

As you may know, there are now laws requiring convicted sex offenders to register with localities as to their address, and the common practice of publicizing offenders addresses on the internet or other media. There's a local news story of legislation to equip all convicted sex offenders with GPS devices, so law enforcement officials can know where they are all the time.

Then I read this via TalkLeft:
Two released sex offenders who were on a registration list available on the Internet have been murdered. A man is believed to have posed as an FBI officer, went to their apartment and shot them.

The man presented himself to the three roommates as a member of the FBI and said he wanted to talk to them about their Level III sex offender status, according to police.

The fake FBI agent told the roommates that one of them was on a “hit list” on an Internet site, according to the police. The roommate who reported the deaths left while the FBI imposter was still there, Ambrose said.

Is this an isolated case of vigilante justice, or will this be the beginning of a trend?
Well, I realize that sexual crimes are terrible crimes. Believe me, in my practice I treated a number of individuals who were the victims of unspeakable abuse. But perps being murdered by vigilantes who find them on the internet after they've served their sentences?

I personally think the laws requiring public notification should be carefully reviewed, using knowledge and not hysteria as a basis for legislation. More and more, we hamstring judges whose job is to evaluate cases individually, and to determine what is an appropriate societal response to the offense.

And I certainly don't think the idea of strapping on a GPS device to every single registered offender makes any sense at all.


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