Restructuring Sex Offender Sentencing: A Therapeutic Jurisprudence Approach to the Criminal Justice Process

In the article ‘Restructuring Sex Offender Sentencing: A Therapeutic Jurisprudence Approach to the Criminal Justice Process’, Edwards and Hensley feel that recent legislations owing to public paranoia and scrutiny of pedophilia had led to more convictions of sex offenders. This has led to a drastic increase in imprisonment of sex offender during the recent past. Populist sentencing of sex offenders have also forced sex offenders to serve more time in confinement and brought down the ability the criminal justice system to bring about a positive change in sex offenders.

The society commonly views sex offenders as a group of sick people exhibiting paraphilia. However, it fails to recognize the fact that these offenders belong to diverse socioeconomic upbringings and religious backgrounds. Thus, generalization of sex offenders eliminates the possibility of understanding the etiological aspects of their perverse sexual behavior. This has also eliminated the possibility of awarding customized sentences for sex offenders. Although registration of sex offenders to protect the common interests of the community is quite understandable, it also increases general hatred. Sex offenders are often scorned and frowned upon even in prison by other prisoners. The stigmatization of sex offenders only discourages them from voluntarily participating in treatment programs.

Certain elements of the justice machinery also prevent the offenders from owing up to their actions and encourage further denial. Research has clearly shown that denial is one of the main causes of offence and a barrier towards treating sex offenders. The elimination of parole and enforcement of specific statutes to prevent early release of sex offender are a clear indication of the pessimistic attitude towards the correction of sex offenders. This model of punishment also discourages offender from participating in retaliatory programs since there is no incentive of reduced sentence. Mandatory minimum custodial periods by employing harsher strategies for sex offenders have been introduced due to pressure from special interest groups.

The public attitude towards treating pedophiles has shifted from punishments to virtually incapacitating child abusers. Although there is no study to substantiate this claim, recent convictions clearly indicate a trend of sexual offenders being awarded longer sentences. There has also been a steady decline in awarding probation to child sex offenders, as the number of imprisonment sentences awarded increased from 58% in the 1980s to 79% in 1996. Many states have also enforced laws to imprison repeat sex offenders for life. These factors again lower the possibility of the offender accepting specialized treatment. Hence, the populist punitive trend actually discourages sex offenders from receiving medical help to bring about behavior transformation.

Doubts have been often raised about the usefulness of employing treatment programs for sex offenders. Although a vast array of studies have been conducted over treating sex offenders, none has proven to be conclusive. Furthermore, different state prisons have different programs from treating sex offenders, which has complicated the process of analyzing its efficacy. A large segment of the medical and legal communities still believe that sex offender should receive proper specialized treatment to bring about a positive change in behavior. However, the financial pressures in maintaining prisons as well as political intervention have prevented this from being practically implemented. This has resulted in lessening of efforts to treat sex offenders while incarcerating them in prison. Hence, the authors alternatively suggest a jurisprudential approach to treating sex offenders. They propose a treatment track model to be implemented during the adjudication phase to analyze the therapeutic needs and potential of the offender, so as to award a suitable sentence and treatment program to modify their behavior during the sentence.

In the article ‘Motivation and Sex Offender Treatment Efficacy: Leading a Horse to Water and Making It Drink’, Terry and Mitchell attempt to understand the impact of cognitive behavioral treatment program in treating sex offenders in prison. The prison treatment programs for sex offenders in the USA and Canada are not quite established and standardized, a similar program in England in considered. The Criminal Justice Act in 1991 in England facilitated more sex offenders to be treated through the Sex Offender Treatment Program (SOTP). It was a uniform, cognitive-behavioral treatment implemented at twenty-five different facilities.

Many statistics have time and time again showed that sex offenders mostly refuse treatment. Hence, it was clear that the treatment would be successful only if the offender was motivated to change. Hence, the program was solely voluntary and participation would not attract any privileges or parole. Usually, sex offenders are released under parole or probation only after they are deemed fit to live in the society. However, there are numerous instances of repeat offenders since many of the offenders are often coerced or forced to participate in treatment programs just to seek a way out of prison. This problem would be solved only if the relation between offender’s motivation to change and actual results is clearly understood.

The SOTP identified seven CDs understand the sexual deviance of the sex offenders, since cognitive distortion often influences offending behavior and eventually in the relapse of crime. Factors such as denial to accept responsibly for their actions, empathy for the victims, alcohol or drug abuse and justification for their actions were some of the distorted behaviors that were being tracked. The identified CDs of sex offenders participating in the program were monitored, by comparing their assessments before and after treatment. The participant’s motivation to change was analyzed by conducting semi-structured interviews. The efficacy of the treatment was determined by the change in cognitive distortions; it would be considered successful only if at least four of the distorted behaviors were cured.

Terry and Mitchell were interested in finding out if motivation to take part in the program had any connection to the reduction of cognitive distortions (CDs). Their study suggested that the results of sex offenders who were motivated to change as well the ones not willing to change were quite similar. This was limited to sex offenders who abused adult victims. However, the results of sex offenders who abused children showed a drastic change, as offenders who were motivated to change exhibited better results compared to the ones who were not motivated to change their behavior. However, this is inconclusive to establish a relation between motivation levels and change in cognitive distortions, since offenders with adult victims spent had spent more time in prison, compared to the sex offenders with child victims. It was also interesting to note that child abusers continued to have more fantasies compared to other sex offenders, even after undergoing the treatment. Another interesting find of the study is the improvement of empathy levels in sex offenders facing life-sentence, as a result of participating in the specialized program. Although SOTP is a voluntary program, the offenders did know that it would have it benefits and that the failure to participate would only make thing worse. Hence, one can conclude that a proper relationship behind motivation and behavior modification can be established only by studying a larger group of sex offenders undergoing treatment.