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Short Version
Section 1: Lecture Content & Teaching Notes
Supervision of Sex Offenders in the Community: An Overview

1 hour, 15 minutes

(30 minutes)


Use Slide # SymbolUse Slide #20: Challenges to Sex Offender Supervision
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Probation/parole agencies are faced with a number of significant challenges in their efforts to supervise sex offenders safely. These include—

  • Victims who are usually sexually assaulted in or near their homes by individuals they know;
  • Offenders who are being supervised in the same community where they have committed their offenses and where their victims and potential victims also reside;
  • Offense patterns that are characterized by deceit, secrecy, repetitiveness, and extreme trauma to victims;
  • Offense patterns that include a variety of offenses, making potential victims harder to identify and protect; and
  • A fragmented criminal justice and social service system in which responsibility for investigating, prosecuting, sentencing, supervising, treating, and monitoring sex offenders is dispersed across agencies, disciplines, and branches of government.

It is not surprising, then, that in many jurisdictions around the nation, an approach to sex offender supervision is emerging that includes the following elements:

Use Slide # SymbolUse Slides #21-22: Emerging Sex Offender Supervision Practices
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Refer to Handout Symbol Refer to handout: The trainer should draw participants' attention to Case Studies on the Center for Sex Offender Management's National Resource Sites for information regarding the ways in which diverse jurisdictions have operationalized these various elements. This document can be found in its entirety among the participant materials for Section 1 of the short version of this curriculum.

  • An understanding of the importance of a shared and consistent philosophy and strategy for the supervision of sex offenders in the community. Because so many agencies are involved in the identification, assessment, supervision, and treatment of sex offenders, a common philosophical framework and set of expectations are essential to allow successful collaborative work. In addition, the secrecy, manipulation, and deception that characterize sex offending behavior demand that there be a clear set of expectations for all involved to minimize the ability of offenders to circumvent the goals of community supervision.

  • A primary concern for the prevention of future victimization and the safety and recovery of previous victims, to the extent possible. Probation/parole agencies have traditionally been offender centered in their work. As the concepts of community and restorative justice spread, the notion of the victim as a primary concern in supervision is also growing. Because of the devastating impact of sexual assault on victims, prioritizing victim safety as a critical element of community supervision has become an urgent challenge for probation/parole agencies. Concerns for the recovery of the victim and the well-being of the community should guide the development of policy, the implementation of programs, and the actions of criminal justice practitioners and other professionals working with sexual assault victims and supervising perpetrators. These policies and programs must be sensitive to specific needs of victims and must not increase victim trauma.

  • An acknowledgment that sex offenders must be held accountable for their actions. The notion that sex offenders should be involved in treatment in no way suggests that they be allowed to escape responsibility for their own actions. Indeed, the offense-specific treatment that is emerging and becoming accepted across the nation holds the offender accountable, is victim centered, and is limited in its confidentiality. Some jurisdictions have found that integrating postconviction polygraph examinations helps bring sex offender behavior more out into the open, where it is subject to monitoring and intervention. These interventions aim to be preventive in nature and are based on the proposition that an offender who can successfully manage his behavior to avoid offending in the future is less of a risk to potential victims.

  • An understanding that some offenders can be managed safely in the community. The research is promising regarding the ability to influence the likelihood of rearrest for sex offenses, given an adequate program of supervision and treatment. For those who cannot be safely managed in the community or who will not take responsibility for their continued abusing behavior, incarceration is the appropriate response.

  • A collaborative effort that begins with the cooperation of supervision agencies and offense-specific treatment providers. Such an effort involves the recognition that information must be shared freely between supervision and treatment to prevent sex offenders from maintaining secrecy and deception or playing members of the team against each other to their own advantage. This collaboration requires a waiver of the confidentiality that is traditionally afforded patients in other kinds of mental health treatment.

  • Collaborative efforts may extend to include the polygraph examiner and victim advocate in a "Containment Approach" and may also extend to other agencies and individuals, such as law enforcement, who share responsibility for sex offender management. The polygraph is attaining greater use as a tool to aid in the disclosure of a full sexual history, which is important for treatment and supervision; to monitor compliance with supervision requirements; and to assist in the "maintenance" of offenders under long-term supervision. Victim advocates are essential to ensuring that victim safety and other victim concerns are adequately addressed in policy and practice. The development of intra-agency, interagency, and interdisciplinary teams (at both policy and case management levels) helps jurisdictions overcome the fragmentation that often results from a complex criminal justice system and assists in the development of more effective supervision strategies for sex offenders. These teams develop and consistently evaluate policies, procedures, and protocols for managing sex offenders. Collaboration is vitally important in the effective supervision of sex offenders in the community because it—

    Use Slide # SymbolUse Slide #23: Collaboration…
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    • Improves communication among the agencies involved;
    • Allows for quicker and less intrusive responses to victims;
    • Promotes the exchange of ideas among individuals with different perspectives and expertise;
    • Facilitates the sharing of information about specific cases and resources;
    • Improves system problem-solving ability;
    • Provides ongoing support for team members;
    • Increases the understanding by all team members of what everyone else on the team needs to do their jobs well; and
    • Fosters a unified and comprehensive approach to the management of sex offenders.19

To review the practices so far, then:

  • Shared, consistent philosophy, and strategy
  • Primary concern for victim safety and recovery
  • Prevention of future victimization
  • Sex offenders held accountable for their actions
  • Some offenders can be managed safely and some cannot
  • A collaborative effort

Use Slide # SymbolUse Slide #24: Emerging Sex Offender Supervision Practices
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In addition:

  • An understanding that traditional methods of assessment and supervision may not be appropriate for sex offenders and that specialized approaches are warranted. Because of the high stakes involved for the victim and because sex offenders present challenges that may not be present with other criminal populations, specialized approaches to community supervision are being developed and implemented in jurisdictions around the country that include: specialized caseloads, relapse prevention as an organizing principle for supervision, the imposition and management of specialized conditions, and the use of a collaborative team approach with team membership extending beyond the criminal justice system.

  • Informed and consistent public policy wherever and whenever possible. To develop, maintain, and improve approaches to their community supervision of sex offenders, local criminal justice practitioners must be actively involved in creating new and improved public policy at all levels of government. These practitioners should work with policymakers, the judiciary, and state corrections departments to develop informed policies that reflect the most recent research regarding sex offender supervision, and support a public safety philosophy that emphasizes the safety of past and potential victims and the community. In addition to shaping broad jurisdictional policies regarding sex offender management, supervision representatives must also work to ensure that there are clear, written guidelines in their own agencies to guarantee that sex offense cases are managed and processed consistently. Such guidelines may include the following:

    • Timelines for victim reporting;
    • The acceptance or rejection of plea agreements in cases of sexual assault;
    • The use of polygraph information;
    • Treatment requirements for sex offenders;
    • Guidelines for treatment providers;
    • Guidelines for polygraph examiners;
    • Special conditions for the supervision of sex offenders;
    • Confidentiality waivers;
    • Requirements and standards for evaluation;20 and
    • Guidelines agreed to by treatment providers on any family or victim recontact or reunification.

Written policies and procedures also provide a mechanism for jurisdictions to examine critically and monitor the processes through which sex offenders are managed. Many jurisdictions that have written policies and procedures scrutinize them to ask whether they are clear, whether they can be improved, and what we can learn from the experiences of other jurisdictions. In addition, written policies and procedures help jurisdictions institutionalize the approaches they have found to be most effective and helpful. Promotions, resignations, retirements, and staff transfers are common in most agencies and jurisdictions. Clear policies and procedures help ensure consistency in practice.

And the final element of this emerging approach to sex offender supervision is:

  • An understanding that on-going evaluation and monitoring are vital components in any sex offender supervision and management program. The information obtained through monitoring and evaluation assists in developing and improving the program. Evaluation and monitoring also allow the interagency team to examine, in a collaborative fashion, whether their policies and procedures are meeting the team's goals.