October 15, 2010

Exciting new sex offender treatment model

Today, dear readers, is an exciting day. It marks the official release of a groundbreaking new book on sex offender treatment, one that may signal a pivotal turning point away from punitive practices toward a recognition of offenders' essential human dignity and the universality of crime desistance.

Scholars D. Richard Laws and Tony Ward have taken on a huge task in Desistance from Sex Offending: Alternatives to Throwing Away the Keys. They hope to bring mainstream criminological theories about crime desistance to an insular, risk-obsessed fringe of forensic psychology that has remained remarkably uninterested in the fact that offenders desist from crime, or the process through which that occurs.

Desistance provides a superb, highly readable overview of the criminological literature on desistance, the age-crime curve, and offender reintegration research, focusing heavily on the seminal works of Sampson and Laub and Shadd Maruna. The authors propose the Good Lives Model as a theory that can bridge the looming chasm between desistance theory and forensic psychology practice with sex offenders.

The voices of dissent against the dominant, pathologizing discourse of deviance are growing louder. The publication of this trailblazing book is yet another in a series of signals that the reign of penal harm may be losing steam, creating opportunities for implementing progressive reforms.

Desistance is essential reading for clinicians, researchers, academicians, attorneys, and anyone interested in the application of contemporary social science theory on desistance to sex offender rehabilitation.

The timing is propitious, coinciding as it does with next week's annual conference of the Association for the Treatment of Sexual Abusers (ATSA) in Phoenix, Arizona. At least one conference seminar, by Pamela Yates, Ph.D., will focus on applying the Good Lives Model to sex offender treatment. If you are attending the conference, buy this book early before it sells out.

We can only hope that the spirit of reform embodied in Desistance truly catches on, rather than being coopted by the entrenched forces of risk management.

NOTE: I am writing more detailed and formal reviews of Desistance for publication, and will link to those as soon as they are available. Also see my online review at Amazon (and please, as always, remember to click on “yes” if you like the review).