|***** Sex Offenders: Does Treatment Work?
by Eric Lotke
. . . How Much do Sex Offenders Reoffend?
Contrary to popular belief, convicted sex offenders have relatively
low rates of recidivism compared to other offenders. On average,
untreated sex offenders sentenced to prison have a recidivism rate of
18.5%. In comparison, recidivism rates range around 25% for drug
offenses and 30% for violent offenses. 6 Thus, people convicted of
sex crimes tend to reoffend less than people convicted of many other
types of crime. . . .
Does Treatment Reduce Recidivism?
A popular misconception is that nothing can cure a sex offender. This
myth can be traced largely to a paper published by Lita Furby in
1989. Furby's paper, however, focused on the lack of sophisticated,
reliable data with which to evaluate treatment regimes. It concluded
only that evidence of the effectiveness of psychological treatment
was inconclusive. Politicians and the mass media picked up this
judgment, often converting it to the claim: "Nothing Works!"
That conclusion, however, is against the general weight of the
evidence. Most research shows that sex offenders do indeed respond
positively to treatment. A comprehensive analysis by Margaret
Alexander of the Oshkosh Correctional Institution found far more
studies reporting positive results than otherwise.
Alexander found that recidivism rates after treatment drop to an
average of 10.9%. Thus, a picture has begun to emerge in which
treated sex offenders reoffend less than untreated sex offenders.
Many sex offenders appreciate the wrongness of their conduct and
intensely desire to reform themselves. Treatment helps them to
achieve this end.
Moreover, treatment has become more effective as more attention has
been devoted to the problem. When Alexander classified the studies by
date, she found recidivism rates in recent surveys to be 8.4%.
The conclusion that treatment reduces recidivism can be refined
further by distinguishing between different kinds of sex offenders.
Treatment cuts the recidivism rate among exhibitionists and child
molesters by more than half, yet cuts recidivism among rapists by
just a few percent. Juveniles respond very positively to treatment,
indicating that treating sex offenders as soon as they are identified
can prevent an escalation of their pathology. The state of Vermont
reports offense rates after treatment as: 19% for rapists, 7% for
pedophiles, 3% for incest, and 3% for "hands-off" crimes such as