As indicated above, the initial and most influential strategies of sex offender supervision—the external supervisory dimension of relapse prevention (NAPN, 1993; Pithers et al., 1988, 1989) and the Containment Approach (English et al., 1996, 2003)—were developed in response to the recognized need for specialized approaches to the management of sex offenders. As initially applied to sex offender management, relapse prevention relied primarily on internal self–management. Practitioners quickly realized that sole reliance on sex offenders to monitor their own behaviors was insufficient and, as a result, the external supervisory dimension was developed (Cumming & Buell, 1997; Cumming & McGrath, 2000; Marques, Nelson, Alarcon, & Day, 2000; NAPN, 1993; Pithers et al., 1988, 1989; Pithers & Cumming, 1995). This critical component provided for the training of supervision officers regarding sex offender management, the development of external controls and supports to assist in monitoring and accountability, and multidisciplinary collaboration to ensure offender accountability and victim safety. For each sex offender, supervision officers must understand the various precursors associated with offending patterns, identify high risk situations for each offender, monitor progress or concerns, work closely with offenders and others to facilitate offenders’ use of adaptive coping skills to manage risk, and intervene with external controls when warranted.
Similarly, the Containment Approach and the Comprehensive Approach to sex offender management are based on the recognition that adequate safeguards for victims and communities are implemented most effectively when consistent and informed policies, specialized training, multidisciplinary collaboration, and the use of external leverage are in place (Carter, et al., 2004; English, 1998; English et al., 1996, 2003). The common thread of these strategies is the shared goal and primary emphasis on victim and community safety, accomplished through multidisciplinary collaboration and the use of various external supports and controls.
A recent national survey of adult and juvenile sex offender treatment programs indicates that collaboration is very common in adult and juvenile sex offender management efforts, especially between supervision and treatment professionals (McGrath, Cumming, & Burchard, 2003). More than 80 percent of the residential/institutional and community–based programs surveyed share information on a consistent basis with supervision officers and case managers. In addition, 40% of the programs indicated that officers and case managers visit treatment groups. On rare occasions, providers reported that officers cofacilitate groups with them. However, this is a controversial practice, as concerns have been raised regarding confidentiality and the blurring of the important and separate roles of clinicians and supervision officers (ATSA, 2005).
Consequently, policies and procedures should clearly articulate and define the roles and responsibilities of supervision officers, treatment providers, and others in the context of the collaborative working relationships that are critical to successful sex offender management (ATSA, 2005). The efforts of treatment providers and supervision officers in the context of a comprehensive approach to sex offender management should support and complement one another while maintaining very clear boundaries. For example, if officers attend treatment groups, their observations should be scheduled in advance to avoid causing unnecessary disruptions in the therapeutic process. In addition, treatment providers should obtain informed consent from group members, recognize the potential of these visits to impact clients in negative ways, and take steps to prevent and mitigate such effects.
The presence of prosocial influences is a key protective factor that reduces the likelihood of recidivism in adult and juvenile offenders of all types, including sex offenders (see, e.g., Hanson & Morton–Bourgon, 2005; Hawkins et al., 1998; Petersilia, 2003; Prescott, 2006; Worling & Langstrom, 2006). As described briefly above, routine and open communication with sex offenders’ support networks (e.g., family members, employers, school personnel, mentors, members of the faith community, etc.) can provide invaluable information to enhance supervision practices. Information from collateral contacts can provide insights into the day–to–day activities, attitudes, and adjustment of sex offenders, and offer support for or refute the veracity of their reports (Bumby & Talbot, 2007; CSOM, 2002a, 2002b; Cumming & McGrath, 2000, 2005).
Critical to this process is creating a diverse network of responsible and informed individuals who serve as the “eyes and ears” of supervision officers in the community on a regular basis, while promoting the stability and adjustment of adult and juvenile sex offenders. Ideally, network members support offenders in adhering to the expectations of treatment and supervision, maintaining positive lifestyles, and avoiding high risk behaviors and situations. They should intervene when problem behaviors occur and communicate frankly with supervision officers regarding their identified concerns.
To maximize the value of community support networks, supervision agency policies should require officers to address community support networks as part of the supervision planning process. This policy–driven process should outline expectations pertaining to whom should be considered as network members, the specific criteria that must be met to be an appropriate community support, specialized training for them, and expectations regarding their role in community supervision. Ideally, network members (Cumming & McGrath, 2000, 2005; Ryan, 1997a, 1997b, Ryan & Lane, 1997):
- Believe the offender committed the offense(s);
- Hold the offender solely responsible;
- Assume a positive role in the offender’s life;
- Are aware of and can recognize the offender’s risk factors;
- Agree to disclose risky behaviors manifested by the offender; and
- Are willing to discuss the offender’s activities and any identified concerns with the supervision officer.
When appropriate support networks have been established, supervision officers should ensure that these individuals are familiar with principles and expectations of treatment and supervision (Cumming & McGrath, 2005; Hudson, Wales, & Ward, 1998; Ryan, 1997b). It is also important that community supports understand how information from them will be used and with whom it will be shared. Over time, insights from these individuals can inform modifications and updates to supervision plans.
For adult sex offenders, employers can be particularly important members of the community support networks. Routine contacts by supervision officers with employers are critical to verify offenders’ attendance and conduct in the workplace (Bumby, Talbot, & Carter, in press; CSOM, 2002b; Cumming & McGrath, 2005; English et al., 2003). The frequency and nature of employment contacts should depend on offenders’ supervision needs, progress in treatment, employment environment, and other risk factors. Initial contacts between officers and employers may be more frequent, decreasing as offenders exhibit appropriate work–related behaviors and progress through their terms of supervision and treatment. Monitoring should include a combination of on–site visits, telephone contacts, and reviews of payroll stubs to verify attendance (CSOM, 2002b).
A particularly promising approach to utilizing community support networks involves recruiting and training volunteers (Wilson & Picheca, 2005). This model, known as Circles of Support and Accountability (COSA), is unique in that it is designed to target high risk sex offenders who are being released from prison following the expiration of their full sentence and who do not have existing natural supports or accountability structures in the communities to which they are returning. The COSA model uses both professional and citizen volunteers to work closely with sex offenders following their release to the community, matching them to needed support and resources, and holding them accountable for their behaviors (CSC, 2002). Outcomes are very positive, with program participants reoffending at lower rates than a matched group of sex offenders who did not participate in the program (Wilson & Picheca, 2005).
Establishing community support networks can be particularly beneficial for juvenile sex offenders. Additional members of community support networks for juvenile sex offenders can include youth care workers, mentors, social service aides, and volunteers. These paraprofessionals are able to assume a role that extends beyond simple monitoring, including paraprofessional counseling, support/guidance, role modeling, and transportation functions. Furthermore, these individuals can serve as liaisons between supervision officers or case managers, and juveniles and their families.
Eliciting the involvement of juvenile sex offenders’ parents/caregivers and other family members as members of community support networks is particularly important as well (Bumby & Talbot, 2007; CSOM, 1999; Fanniff & Becker, 2006; Hunter & Lexier, 1998; Lane, 1997; NAPN, 1993; Ryan, 1997b; Ryan & Lane, 1997; Worling, 1998); however, for a variety of reasons, parents and other family members may be reluctant or resistant. For example, the complex and overwhelming nature of the juvenile justice and social services systems, considerable stigma associated with sex offending, multiple demands and expectations from different agencies and individuals, and in some cases, significant family dysfunction, are among the host of factors that may impact the willingness of family members to actively participate in the sex offender management process. Moreover, as many victims of juvenile sex offenders are within the family, parents may struggle considerably with attempts to balance the needs of both the offender and the victim.
To facilitate the engagement of parents and other family members in the supervision process, it is critical that supervision officers and case managers maintain an empathic, respectful, supportive, and firm approach, rather than interacting in an overly controlling or authoritative manner (Gray & Pithers, 1993; Jenkins, 1998; Lane, 1997; Worling, 1998), and process the issues that likely contribute to their resistance. For example, in their interactions with parents, officers or case managers can:
- Label the behavior and not the youth;
- Stress that parents can play a very significant role in ensuring that their children are responsive to the expectations of the juvenile justice system and that they receive the services that they need to be successful;
- Emphasize that having a child who commits a sex offense does not make a parent a failure;
- Teach parents about sex offending behavior and debunk common myths (e.g., all sex offenders recidivate, juveniles who commit sex crimes go on to perpetrate as adults);
- Ask parents to talk about their fears, concerns, and questions, and take the time to respond to them; and
- Identify common ground and common goals to work towards together (e.g., success of the youth, no more offending).
Many jurisdictions have also found that offering ongoing education classes, support groups, and workshops specifically designed to address the needs of parents can be very beneficial.
Aside from the home, school is likely to be the location in the community where juveniles spend most of their time on a daily basis. Therefore, as has been emphasized already, collaboration with schools early during the period of supervision (and in an ongoing way thereafter) and the participation of education staff as community support network members are essential. There are a number of important considerations that can help to support the involvement of school personnel in the community supervision process (see, e.g., Colorado Sex Offender Management Board and Colorado Department of Education, 2003):
- A policy–driven approach—Some school districts and state school boards have developed written policies and procedures that explicate the process by which school staff will be involved in the day–to–day supervision of juvenile sex offenders.
- Individualized school management plans—As is the case with broader supervision efforts, supervision strategies in the school setting should be based on the risk level, needs, and circumstances of each juvenile, and should prioritize the safety needs of victims and those who may be vulnerable. Therefore, class schedules, lunch and breaks between classes, arrival and departure times, modes of travel, participation in physical education and extracurricular activities, and other necessary behavioral restrictions, are critical issues to be addressed in school management plans for youthful sex offenders.
- Specialized training—Jurisdictions in which schools are directly involved in and supportive of the community management process report that education staff at all levels have received extensive specialized training regarding youthful sex offenders, promising supervision and treatment strategies, dynamic risk factors, promoting the safety of victims and those who are vulnerable in the school setting, and their specific roles and responsibilities in the context of a multidisciplinary, collaborative approach to the community management of these youth. The school personnel who serve as support network members usually receive the most intensive training. In some jurisdictions, training for education staff is provided by a multidisciplinary team that includes a specialized supervision officer, an offense–specific treatment provider, and a victim advocate, among others.
Indeed, ongoing specialized training is particularly important for all members of support networks who work with sex offenders. Critical topics include (see, e.g., Cumming & McGrath, 2005; English, et al., 1996; Ryan & Lane, 1997):
- The dynamic factors that are related to recidivism risk and the importance of close monitoring of them over time;
- Effective sex offender management approaches;
- The criminal or juvenile justice process;
- The roles of the various professionals involved in the management process; and
- The expectations, roles, and responsibilities associated with serving as a community support network member.
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