Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Preventing Recidivism Among Sex Offenders

It's nice to see Texas taking first steps away from cookie cutter justice solutions, particularly on the complex, hot button topic of how best to prevent future offenses by convicted sex offenders.

The Texas Council on Sex Offender Treatment approved new offender assessment rules on Friday that will more accurately predict and prevent recidivism. I wrote about the proposed changes last week, and Allison Taylor, the Council's executive director, this morning forwarded me a copy of what the Council adopted.

The new rules assess offenders risk level, needs, and learning styles to identify an appropriate treatment package. The change is based on a perhaps counterintuitive research finding that excessive supervision and programming requirements for low-risk sex offenders actually ENCOURAGES recidivism. According to the Council:
Effective rehabilitation programming is based upon the principle that the intensity of the rehabilitation intervention is matched to the risk of the offender. Higher risk offenders respond better to more intense services whereas low risk offenders respond better to less intense services. In fact, the research shows that providing intensive interventions to low risk offenders actually increases the risk for reoffense.
The linked document goes into greater detail, for those who're interested, in what assessment tools are used to categorize offenders under the new regimen, and also includes an interesting looking bibliography on the topic at the end of the short overview.

The new assessment tools will only affect future releasees; offenders already on supervision won't be re-assessed under current plans, mainly because of logistics and cost. But the success of the new measures should be tracked closely, and if the new tools live up to research-based predictions of reduced recidivism, IMO the 81st Legislature in 2009 should pony up to re-assess everybody.

UPDATE: More from the Fort Worth Star Telegram.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Grits, Please explain to me how a risk assessment lowers recidivism. The risk assessment only measures the probability that a person with a particular score will reoffend. When assessing risk, the instrument is important, but equally important are the rules that are established about its use (when completed, by whom, and how frequently thereafter) and what is done with the information after completion. For example, does the offender with a high probability to reoffend, have different parole conditions? Currently, risk scores are tied to community notification with high risk offenders being required to have postcards sent out to neighbors. I wonder how effective that has been? Does the Council have any statistics related to recidivism of offenders with postcard notification? The studies conducted by other states on sex offender registration have shown that registration does not lower recidivism. And, will this not just push the sex offender to "work" in other areas outside of the neighborhood that received the postcards?

Dynamic means that the risk can change over time. So, how frequently will offenders be reassessed? The assessment is only valid if the factors on the assessment do not change. For example, if being married is a factor related to reduced recidivism, is the offender reassessed if he gets a divorce and then may be at higher risk? What happens if an offender successfully completes treatment, does not reoffend for years and is otherwise free of additional criminal behavior? Is that person reassessed with a lower score? Please ask the Council what the reassessment rules are if they are going to use a dynamic assessment?

Are there different assessments for females and for adolescents? The research shows that these groups are different than the adult males and it seems that a different assessment is needed. The Council had stated that the current risk assessment had too many adolescents identified as high risk. What evidence do they have that these assessments perform better than the old ones? Both TJPC and TYC have data where the Council could have tested it out before adoption. Please ask for the data. There are other assessments for adolescents that are being validated right now and that show promise. Did they look at these (J-SOAP and ERASOR)?

I am not sure whether this change was funded or not but all staff in CJAD, TDCJ, TYC and TJPC will have to be retrained. How much will that cost and who will do the training? How staff intensive will the assessments be? Will it take them longer to complete and will it take more staff to comply? How much will this cost? If there are not changes in terms of how the offenders will be treated or supervised that are based on the assessment results, this is another case of money down the drain and of giving the public a false sense of security.

Grits, please take a closer look at this change and do not take it at face value. You have recommended that funding be sought so all sex offenders can be reassessed. I think that it is way too early to be making such a recommendation.

BTW, you might remove the link from the first comment. It is offensive. Thanks.