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Low-risk sex offenders should be treated rather than locked up

Andy Hudak, Daily Interlake, Jan 03, 2007

I once wrote a letter called "The Good News About Sex Offenders," and received several replies.

An example of the common lack of knowledge and persistent myths regarding evaluation and treatment advances in this specialty field could be found in one reply, which stated:

"There is no good news... Hudak offered no proof...," etc. He went on to misquote Bureau of Justice statistics, claiming "40 percent re-offense within a year of release."

The actual statistic is a 3.8 percent re-offense rate over three
! This was also across ALL levels of risk. My past letter was about outpatient sex offender treatment where very high risk offenders are screened out.

The Montana Sex Offender Treatment Association was founded in 1987 for the purpose of developing a state-of-the-art network of evaluation and treatment of sexual abusers.

Here are some other "good news" facts:

Over the last 30 years, our field has successfully developed scientific objective measures that separate sex offenders into different levels of risk to reoffend.
The vast majority of sex offenders are low and moderate risk clients, and treatable in the community.
Montana's prison and outpatient programs have consistently demonstrated recidivism rates of less than 1 percent per year. These percentages are checked by polygraph and monitoring of support people and probation officers.
The Montana Board of Crime Control funded a study for several years in the 1990s. It found similar low recidivism rates with adolescent offenders AND that 90 percent of these sex offenders' risk level allowed them to be treated successfully in the community. 

Sex offenders in community-based treatment must pay their own way -- not the taxpayer. It's part of accountability, and amends for their betrayals. 

As we've demonstrated such striking success, the irony is that
sentencing and other laws have grown harsher.

Of course, the constant drumbeat and focus on the high risk guys in the media not only unnecessarily frightens people, but also unknowingly perpetuates common myths.

Exploiting fear works. It gets people to tune in after the
commercial. It also secures votes.

The same types of clients that we successfully treated in the 1980s and '90s now go to prison at huge cost to the taxpayer.
Conservatively, that's $5 million to 10 million a year.

The Flathead Valley program has existed for 23 years without a "graduate" going back through the legal system for child molesting -- out of hundreds. (We're due, and I've heard rumors of two that may have, yet that's out of hundreds treated!)

You'd never know about this success from the various legislation that representatives and senators will introduce in the coming legislative session.

Registration and residency restrictions for low and moderate risk sex offenders, irresponsibly labeling many adolescents and adults predators, and putting adolescent sex offenders on the Internet for 25 years, are just several.

Registration unnecessarily frightens people

This is particularly true in light of the fact that 90 percent of
all child molestations occur at the hands of somebody in their own family -- not the stranger down the street.

Most of those registered have been treated, and are being monitored, polygraphed, etc.

The constant drumbeat and focus of the media on the much smaller percentage of sadistic sexual predators has been a formidable obstacle to getting out the positive aspects of this story.

Let's support rational laws and interventions that are successful and based on scientific facts -- NOT the part of our brains that think black-and-white, deal with fear through punishment and repression, and is responsible for much of the prejudice and suffering in the world. 

Hudak, of Whitefish, is co-founder of the Montana Sex Offender Treatment Association and the Northwest Family Recovery Program.


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