No Change in Reoffending for Sex Offenders Who Took Part in Prison Scheme: Report

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First-of-its-kind research into a prison treatment programme for sex offenders and paedophiles suggests there was no change to participants’ reoffending rates.

According to a Ministry of Justice (MoJ) report (pdf) on the accredited Healthy Sex Programme (HSP), researchers found there was no “statistically significant difference” on prison participants reoffending.

Researchers examined the cases of 112 men who completed the HSP at 13 jails in England and Wales between 2015 and 2018.

Among the HSP sample, 30 percent received some form of post-release reprimand.

The proven sexual reconviction rate was 7 percent and a further 20 percent were recalled to prison for breaches of conditions of release.

The remaining 3 percent received a non-sexual reconviction or a conviction for a historical crime.

The report added, “The RBA [risk band analysis] analyses was used to assess whether actual HSP reoffending rates were higher or lower than statistically predicted rates.

“The main results indicated there was, no change, neither higher nor lower than predicted.”

However, researchers urged caution because there was no control group of matched prisoners who had not taken the programme, to compare the results against, and because the study only looked at outcomes during the first 12 months after release.

Risk Factors

HSP is an accredited course delivered on a one-to-one basis aimed at encouraging men with a “sexual paraphilia” such as sexual interest in children or animals, or behaviours such as voyeurism or sadism, to regulate their behaviour and lead safer lives.

The latest published figures from the MoJ show that 109 prisoners completed HSP during 2019/20 and between April 2015 and March 2018—the dates that broadly align with the study period—with a total of 267 people completing the programme.

According to the researchers, Ian A. Elliott and Eleanor Martin, “HSP is underpinned by a bio-psycho-social model of change primarily focusing on meaningful risk factors for sexual recidivism. Guided by the principles of ‘risk, need, and responsivity’, HSP follows strengths-based organising principles to promote an offence-free life.”

Most of the participants completed HSP at HMP Whatton, HMP Wymott, and HMP Usk, with ages ranging from 21 to 78 years.

Of the participants, 83 had been serving a determinate sentence with 29 serving indeterminate sentences.

Among the 112 men in the study, 23 went on to be recalled to prison for breaching licence conditions, seven were convicted of further sexual offences, and two were convicted of historic sexual offences committed before they took part in the programme.

Two were convicted of new non-sexual violent offences.

The most common reasons for being recalled to prison were possession of digital devices that had not been registered with police, or having unsupervised access to children in breach of licence conditions.

At the time they took the course, most of the men were classed as at medium, high, or very high risk of reoffending.

According to standard risk prediction tools, 16 of them would have been expected to go on to reoffend had they not taken part in HSP. It was unclear whether all of the recalls amounted to “reoffending.”

Epoch Times Photo
Two people walk alongside the curtain wall of HMP Liverpool, northwest England, on Nov. 15, 2016. (Paul Ellis/AFP/Getty Images)

Sex Offender Scheme Scrapped

Researchers called the findings “exploratory,” adding, “This study should not be considered as an evaluation of the effectiveness of HSP, nor should the findings be used to draw conclusions about any association between completing HSP and subsequent reconviction or recall rates.”

In 2017 the main sex offender treatment programme for England and Wales was scrapped after a report (pdf) found it led to more reoffending.

Researchers found that prisoners taking part in the core Sex Offender Treatment Programme (SOTP)—used in prisons for 25 years—were slightly more likely to offend than a control group.

The scheme, designed to challenge the behaviour of male sex offenders with psychological techniques to change their thinking, was first approved in 1992.

Researchers followed what happened to 2,562 prisoners who took part in the 180 hours of group sessions before their later release from prison.

They then compared their behaviour over the following years with more than 13,000 comparable offenders.

“More treated sex offenders committed at least one sexual re-offence [excluding breach of conditions of release] during the follow-up period when compared with the matched comparison offenders (10% compared with 8%),” the study said.

“More treated sex offenders committed at least one child image re-offence when compared with the matched comparison offenders (4.4% compared with 2.9 %).

“The results suggest that while Core SOTP in prisons is generally associated with little or no changes in sexual and non-sexual reoffending … the small changes in the sexual reoffending rate suggest that either Core SOTP does not reduce sexual reoffending as it intends to do, or that the true impact of the programme was not detected.

“Group treatment may ‘normalise’ individuals’ behaviour. When stories are shared, their behaviour may not be seen as wrong or different; or at worst, contacts and sources associated with sexual offending may be shared.”

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