Tuesday, December 26, 2006

House Corrections: Community-based treatment more effective for sex offenders

More from the House Corrections Committee interim report (pdf), this time on TDCJ's sex offender treatment programs.

As of July 31, 2006, there were 25,022 offenders incarcerated in TDCJ whose primary offense was a sex offense - if you include the number of offenders with a past or current conviction of a sex offense, the number jumps to 32,481 (p. 16). That's a lot more than I would have anticipated - basically one in six Texas inmates. Inevitably, every year many of these are released back into society:

FY 2003: 2,373
FY 2004: 2,487
FY 2005 2,744

Many are lower level offenders, not rapists or child molesters, but still the raw numbers inevitably raise the question: Have these offenders been rehabilitated?

The committee report evaluates research on what sex offender treatment works, and suggests the likely-to-be controversial reform of de-funding in-prison sex offender treatment to pay for boosted "community based" or outpatient treatment. "At this time, it appears prudent to reduce or eliminate sex offender treatment in the prison setting and bolster resources for sex offender treatment in the community."

The report continued, "Instead of providing sex offender treatment to prison inmates, a more effective approach would be to conduct assessments on sex offender inmates for the purpose of identifying risk and need." The committee recommended "decreases in supervision for ... low-risk offenders," with an "increase in current [supervision] standards" for high risk offenders. They also hope to create post-release plans for each inmate sex offender to facilitate supervision, treatment and reintegration.

I was also struck by two things that weren't in the report on this charge. First, there's no mention of "Jessica's law" nor the death penalty for sex offenders. The report is thankfully free of the hype-filled rhetoric that filled the air during the campaign season, and focuses admirably on research-driven approaches instead of emotional ones. Chairman Madden and his committee deserve a lot of credit for that - responsible approaches to governance on hot button issues shouldn't be a rarity, but they are, and I'm always surprised and pleased to discover them.

OTOH, I was disappointed the committee didn't take up the question of de-registration, straight up removing people from the sex offender rolls. For starters, the registry has expanded to cover too many low-level crimes so that so-called "sex offender" supervision resources are overstretched, reducing safety instead of improving it. It would also improve safety to offer offenders a means to earn their way off the public sex offender rolls through good behavior. I was glad to see the committee state a commitment to reintegration, but a lifetime sex offender registry thwarts that goal. It's the equivalent of a "scarlet letter" that prevents tens of thousands of people from finding housing, employment, and other necessities of life. It's not right, and it's making us less safe - what better reasons to change the law?

Still, considering this report was being put together in the midst of this year's electoral frenzy, when candidates up and down the ballot ran on ramping up sex offender punishments, the committee's report was surprisingly sensible - tougher in ways that are smarter instead of throwing more money at expensive, failing approaches.


Anonymous said...

Excellent article, thanks

Anonymous said...

If they want to protect society they should reduce the ever increasing caseloads on probation officers who supervise Sex Offenders. We are supposed to be in the community watching the SO's, but spend most of our time pushing papers and working part-time jobs to support our families. We don't even receive any special compensation for performing duties above and beyond that of regular officers. We are expected to work nights and weekends as well as holidays, yet are underpaid and overworked. And yes, it is much cheaper to supervise than incarcerate! $44+ a day TDC and $2.45 a day for probation BCCSCD