October 30, 2007

Sex offender program boasts remarkable success rate

Amidst the continuing controversy about whether treatment works for sex offenders, one prison rehabilitation program is boasting an almost 100% success rate.

That is a 24-year-old program in Missouri, at the Farmington Correctional Facility. Only 4% of sex offenders who complete the "MoSOP" (Missouri Sex Offender Program) are rearrested for a new sex offense within three years; after 10 years, the nonrecidivism rate is a whopping 94%.

Those are pretty mind-boggling statistics, considering that the rearrest rate for non-sex offenders within three years is about two-thirds. (In a 15-state study conducted by the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics, car thieves had the highest rates of rearrest, at 79% within three years, followed by burglars, 3 out of 4 of whom were rearrested for another serious crime within three years of release.)

In Missouri, sex offenders who are sentenced to prison have the option of participating in MoSOP. The incentive is early release; those who decline are ineligible for parole and must serve their full prison term.

The program's approach - like most in the burgeoning sex offender industry - is cognitive-behavioral with a heavy focus on relapse prevention. Completion requires about 12 to 15 months, during which time prisoners engage in group and individual therapy, educational coursework, and intensive study that takes up most of their time.

Perhaps artificially elevating the success rate is that prisoners who fail to complete the program are not counted in the recidivism data. Only about 41% (or 521) of 1,273 prisoners finished the program between 2000 and 2004, for example; 2005 saw an additional 244 graduates. In 2006, only about half of all enrolled prisoners finished the entire two-phase program. I could not locate recidivism data for those who did not finish the treatment, although detected recidivism rates even for untreated sex offenders are fairly low, generally in the range of 14% to 17%.

A television news report on the Missouri program is available online.