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Sex Offender "Treatment" in Washington State, In Whose Best Interest?

Sex Offender "Treatment" in Washington State, In Whose Best Interest?

By Dan Pens

The Washington State Sex Offender Treatment Program (SOTP) currently ensconced in TRCC receives national acclaim. They publish statistics which portray them as an unqualified success story. Taken at face value the statistics are impressive. The overall recidivism rate for sex offenders is somewhere around 80 percent. The SOTP claims a recidivism rate for their graduates of 20 percent. It~s no wonder that as one current participant reports, "they have tours of people from all over the country parading through here on an almost daily basis."

The statistics are deceptive. A closer analysis of how the SOTP achieves those impressive figures reveals a troubling story. Before we analyze, though, let~s have a look at some of the details of how the program operates

One of the most troubling aspects of SOTP is the absolute lack of confidentiality. For any mental health professional to provide meaningful treatment, there must be a level of trust between the terapist and client(s). Mental health professionals will tell you that this is a critical requiremetn of effective treatment.

Because of changes in the law made by the 1990 Legislature, nothing revealed by clients in the progream is confidential. Anthing they reveal about themselves will be used by the state to determine the inmate's future disposition.

Most people have heard about the "Civil Commitment" law passed by the 1990 state legislature. Here's a brief encapsulation:

"When it appears that: (1) The sentence of a prson who has been convicted of a sexually violent offense is about to or has expired at any time in the past;...antd it appears that the person may be a sexually violent predator, the prosecuting attorney of the county where the person was convicted or charged or the attorney general if requested by the prosecuting attorney may file a petition alleging that the person is a `sexually violent predator' and setting a sufficient facts to support such allegation."

The "sufficient facts" set forth in the petition can include any inforamtion gleaned from the inmate during the "treatment" process at SOTP. The absolute non-existence of confidentiality in the SOTP program combined with the civil commitment process is a powerful tool for state repression.

Pre-SRA sex offenders currently in the system are being urged to attend SOTP when they're within three years of their parole eligibility date (PERD). They're told, "If you don't attend SOTP the parole board will claim that you're not rehabilitated, and you won't be paroled." SRA prisoners are given a similar line: "If you don't participate in SOTP your refusal can be used against you in a civil commitment hearing." These sound like powerful inducements to attend the program. But what real choice do offenders have, knowing that participation in the "treatment" involves willingly volunteering "confessions" to every crime (both sexual and non sexual), every deviant act, thought, or behavior they have ever engaged in, and knowing the state is free to use that information - all of it - in future disposition hearings? Obviously only two types of offenders will choose to participate: (I) the incredibly naive and (2) first time offenders whose criminal histories are possibly not extensive enough (they hope) to warrant filing a civil commitment petition. It's no wonder that the overwhelming majority of offenders refuse to subpct themselves to this sham.

This initial choice - to attend or not attend - serves to s~een out some of the worst offenders. They have the most to fear and the most to loose by spilling their guts in "treatment." Unfortunately there is another group of offenders who choose not to participate. Some sex offenders have no desire to change. They sit around in prison dreaming about how they'll re-offend after they get out. It~s unfortunate that those who will most likely refuse to participate in SOm are the same offenders who may pose the greatest threat to society upon their release.

Now what about those statistics? How can SOm claim their amazing 20% recidivism rate? Clearly the offenders most likely to re-offend never enter the program. But the screening doesn't stop there. SOm has a history of "flunking out~' offenders they perceive as most likely to re-offend. As one recent participant reports, "I don't know what the exact figures are, but well over half of the participants are washed out of the program." It would appear that SOTP rigidly and jealously guards it~s "success" rate. They kick out offenders who fit into any of several high risk categories. The offenders who graduate from the program are the few who were least likely to re-offend in the first place!

What does the overall statistical picture look like? How does the 20% recidivism rate stand up to closer scrutiny? Consider this: approximately 770 sex offenders are released from Washington prisons each year. Of that number, only about 50 are graduates of the som program. if you used the 80% re-offense rate to calculate the recidivism of all 770 sex offenders, you'd get a figure of 616 who will re-offend. That's a pretty dismal statistic. But what effect does the SOm have? Let~s have a look.

Number of Sex Offenders

Released in One Year
Recidivism Rate
Probable # of Re-Offenders

SOTP Graduates = 50

Other Sex Offenders = 720

Total Combined Figures = 770

As you can see, the complete picture tells a very different story from the amazing, "Washington State Achieves 20% Recidivism Rate fw Sex Ofjcenders." The overall recidivism rate remains a dismal 76.1% and the worst offenders are not getting treatment at all. It becomes obvious that achieving the skewed "20%" figure is a primary interest of the state's SOm program. But who is best served by this statistic, the people in the community or the self-serving bureaucrats who feed off of the system that pays their salaries?

It's time we stopped reassuring ourselves with skewed statistics, and start work towards creating a treatment system that acts in the best interest of all of us. The community at large, victims, and sex offenders would be better served by a program that provides as much real treatment to as many offenders as possible. As long as the state wields the repressive club of civil commitment and denies offenders the assurance of participating in treatment without being punished for what they reveal; as long as we continue to screen out or flunk out the worst offenders, we're all being cheated of a chance for a better and safer world.

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