Though the Legislature voted to double the treatment program's budget to $4 million, most of the state's incarcerated sex offenders still will get no treatment, said Geralyn Engman, manager of the treatment program at the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.
The program is part of a larger debate on whether sex offenders can be cured – or at least learn how to manage their impulses.
Effective sex offender treatment has been elusive, experts say.
Still, state officials involved in treatment said 5 percent to 13 percent of sex offenders are rearrested for sex crimes. The only other criminal less likely to reoffend is a convicted murderer, said Allison Taylor, executive director of the Texas Council on Sex Offender Treatment.
A recent state audit of the Texas prison program shows some encouraging results. Reincarceration rates were more than 60 percent lower for offenders who went through the program than for those who did not. Most returning to prison went back for technical violations, not new criminal charges.
Those recidivism numbers are much lower than for other types of offenders - I think most people would be surprised to learn that sex offenders are LESS likely to recidivate than other offenders, and perhaps even more surprised to learn that murderers' recidivism is even lower. It's true, though, if counterintuitive.
For these serious offenses, a typical reason given by the Board of Pardons and Parole for refusing to grant parole is "the nature of the crime." But maybe we're taking the wrong lesson from "the nature of the crime." Right now that phrase is typically invoked to describe the horror of the crime, the effect on the victim, and as an argument for maximizing punishment. Perhaps the nature of the crime might instead imply the need for certain treatment regimens before re-entering the population, or for restorative justice approaches that better respect victims' rights and real needs.
All of these concerns were raised when the legislation was being debated, but bill proponents wouldn't listen. In an odd twist, the sponsor of Texas' Jessica's Law, Rep. Debbie Riddle (R-Tomball) places any blame on the victims and their families - not ham-handed law-writing - if her new statute causes children to be abused more frequently:
"We're focusing on stranger danger," she said of the crackdown, which includes 25-year minimum sentences and the death penalty for some child rapists. "That's not who's molesting the vast majority of our children."
According to federal statistics, juvenile sexual assault victims know their perpetrator a staggering 93 percent of the time. Often, it's a family member. Frequently, it's another child. Rarely is it a stranger.
Texas' push to increase punishment for sex crimes was driven by top state officials wanting to send a "no tolerance" message. Although the laws are politically popular, most such crimes are never reported; those that are prosecuted often end in a plea bargain with a relatively light sentence, and about a third of sexual offenses are committed by juveniles not covered by the enhanced penalties. ...
Parents are reluctant to take a relative or friend to trial; children may make poor witnesses; and despite depictions of the tattooed ex-con hiding in the bushes, most sex offenders look like the harmless guy next door.
"We all have a kind of image of what a monster is ... one of them is that guy lurking out there who's going to kidnap our child and sexually molest and abuse them," said Dr. David Lisak, psychology professor at the University of Massachusetts, Boston, who works with prosecutors, judges and police.
"Unfortunately, the majority of sex crimes involve people like 'Uncle Jimmy,' " he said, "and Uncle Jimmy's not a monster. And all of a sudden we're not so sure Uncle Jimmy should be put in prison."
Ms. Riddle said she's confident the new law will deter and punish those who know their victims and strangers – "anybody who has such a hole in their heart, such a high degree of evil, that they would sexually assault or sexually abuse a child."UPDATE: Michael from Corrections Sentencing linked to this post and offered caveats that I 100% endorse, along with some free advice for Texas pols:
Such talk sounds good, Dr. Lisak said, but "it's actually very rare that that kind of political reaction makes for good public policy."
Crimes in which a child is snatched by a stranger are extremely unusual, despite public paranoia. Of almost 800,000 missing children in a one-year period, just 115 were victims of a stereotypical kidnapping, and half of those involved sexual assault, according to the Department of Justice.
The legislative changes are "a way for everybody to feel like they've done something that's going to be real helpful – but not have to really deal with the issue," said Dr. Liz Hodges, director of the incest recovery program at The Family Place in Dallas.
Dr. Hodges said a better way to combat child sexual assault would be more affordable counseling services and greater awareness and education to increase reporting.
Only one little quibble, Grits. It’s true that most studies show that sex offenders have lower recidivism rates than other offenders, but here are some provisos. Their crimes are harder to detect, it depends on the type of sex offender we’re talking about (drunk one-timer v. sociopath, for example), and many of them recidivate not with new sex offenses but with non-sex crimes. There’s a lot of legislative lunacy done in the name of protecting kids from sex offenders all lumped into one big evil bag, but there are truly some heinous people out there, too, who need serious punishment because treatment doesn’t work on them, as the one offender above admits. That’s why a smart legislature would be funding researchers and treatment providers to get clear pictures of who truly are the low recidivists, who are amenable to treatment, and who can never be trusted. It would be a much wiser investment than the kind of thing the Morning News is documenting in TX and is found just as bad in most other states.See prior, related Grits posts:
[Oh, and Grits, you guys in TX need to stop letting your legislators eat lead paint and then get quoted. They’re all sounding like this expert American historian.]
- House Corrections Committee: Community-based treatment more effective for sex offenders
- When tough on crime is hard on the coffers
- Are child molesters rational, or not?
- Victim advocates oppose sex offender enhancements
- Unintended consequence: Why the death penalty for repeat child molesters would harm children's safety