The Alaska Department of Corrections and the Statistical Analysis Unit in the Justice Center recently completed a beginning study of sex offenders in the treatment program at Hiland Mountain Correctional Center during the period of January 1987 to August 1995. Rose Munafo of the Department of Corrections and Dr. Allan Barnes of the Justice Center headed the project. The study included analysis of descriptive characteristics of the participants; treatment variables such as length of time in program, reason for discharge and treatment stage at discharge; and reoffense data. The analysis led to the following observations:
' Treated sex offenders lasted longer in the community before they were rearrested than offenders in any of the comparison groups. Regardless of the definition of reoffense applied, the treatment group lasted longer without rearrest.
' Those who were in treatment longer tended to live longer in the community without a rearrest. Those who completed all stages of treatment had a zero rearrest rate for sexual reoffenses. This observation also seems to be true of sexual assault offenders (rapists), who generally reoffend more quickly and at a higher frequency.
' Sexual assault offenders (rapists) seem to do as well as sexual abuse of a minor offenders, both in terms of how long they stay in treatment and how far they advance through the program. This is a positive outcome that has not usually been reported by other programs.
' Alaska Native offenders do not progress as well in the program as non-Native offenders. This is the first study which has addressed the demographic characteristics of Alaska Native sex offenders. The findings were somewhat different from what had been expected. It was anticipated that Alaska Natives who left the program early would be young, less educated and have a history of both alcohol and drug abuse. In fact, the study demonstrated that older, more educated Alaska Natives left the program earlier.
Two-thirds of all offenders in the treatment group had a history of substance abuse, with an even higher incidence among Alaska Native offenders. Those who had no history of substance abuse tended to advance further in the program; those with a history of both alcohol and drug abuse tended to leave in the earlier phases of the program.
The study was limited in scope: only sex offenders in the Hiland Mountain program were included. It did not address sex offenders who received treatment for other presenting problems, such as alcoholism or mental illness, exclusive of sex offender treatment. The Hiland Mountain program is currently the only multi-phase institutional treatment program for sex offenders in Alaska.
The program includes four stages:
1. Pretreatment: The purpose of this stage is to provide assessment, orientation, education, challenge of offense denial, and clinical management.
2. Beginning Treatment: This stage prepares offenders to give and receive feedback, to use self-regulation and social skills, and to assume responsibility for the current offense and its impact upon victims. It focuses on the most immediate precursors to the sexual offense, with the creation of external management strategies.
3. Intermediate Treatment: This stage addresses the earliest precursors to the offense and develops the skills for more self-management of all risk factors. The focus is on the internalization of skills learned in the preceding phase.
4. Advanced Treatment: This stage emphasizes the application and generalization of skills to new situations.
With the exclusion of pretreatment, each stage requires a minimum of six months and may take 12 months or more. Duration in treatment depends upon the offender's individual resources, problem areas, skills, motivation and length of sentence. The program is not designed with the expectation that every sex offender will complete all stages of treatment. Some offenders may leave the program without completing all stages. These offenders may lack the ability or the sentence length to go further in the program, but will have still gained some benefit from treatment when they leave the program.
The data from treated offenders in the present study were compared with data from sex offenders and non-sex offenders in several comparison groups. This allowed some conclusions to be drawn regarding whether the results are likely to be due to treatment efforts or to random and unknown factors.
Several measures of recidivism were used in the study, including:
' First Arrest - Any Offense: This variable is a measure of both sexual and non-sexual reoffenses. The time it took for an offender to be arrested for any offense is reflected in this figure.
' Most Serious Offense - Any Offense: This variable is also a measure of both sexual and non-sexual reoffenses but specifically determines the most serious of all reoffenses committed by an offender. This was determined by looking at NCIC offense codes and applying an algorithm to identify seriousness. The algorithm used was developed by the federal Bureau of Justice Statistics in the mid-1970s in an attempt to arrange the NCIC codes according to level of seriousness.
' First Arrest - Non-Sexual Offenses: This variable is a measure of reoffense for any non-sexual crime.
' Most Serious - Non-Sexual Offenses: This variable is a measure of the most serious of the non-sexual reoffenses, which is assessed using the algorithm described above.
' First Arrest - Sexual Offenses: This variable separates sexual offenses from other offenses so that we can study the effects of treatment on sexual reoffending specifically.
' Most Serious Sexual Offense: This variable examines the most serious of the sexual reoffenses using the same algorithm as described above.
These definitions reflect a range of criminal behavior. Measures which reflect criminal behavior of any type tend to be the most sensitive since they pick up criminal thinking of any kind. Sexual reoffenses are the least sensitive measure since they are typically under-reported. Non-sexual offenses, however, are related to sexual offenses because sexual offenses are often at the end of a chain of events which includes non-sexual precursors. It is this chain of events which the relapse prevention plan addresses.
The research demonstrates that treatment works by reducing the incidence of sexual reoffense or by prolonging the time until reoffense. Either of these results reduces the number of victims in the community.
Offenders who are amenable to treatment learn to recognize precursors to relapsing and to self-manage their high risk behavior. Those who are not amenable or not willing to participate in treatment must be controlled by external measures. It is important to recognize that offenders differ along a continuum of risk. Identifying the extent of the risk and the conditions under which an offender is likely to relapse allows the offender and others to manage the risk more effectively.
The study was funded by the Department of Corrections. In addition to Rose Munafo and Allan Barnes, the project team included Dr. Anthony Mander and Dr. Martin Atrops of the Department of Corrections; Tracie Howard, a student in the Justice Center academic program; and other Justice Center students.
Copies of the complete report Sex Offender Treatment Program: Initial Recidivism Study are available from the Alaska Department of Corrections, Offender Programs.