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Short Version
Section 2: Lecture Content & Teaching Notes
An Innovative Approach to Supervision of Sex Offenders in the Community: Collaboration

45 minutes

(40 minutes)


Note: For more information, see CSOM's Policy Brief, The Collaborative Approach to Sex Offender Management, included in its entirety among the participant materials for Section 2 of this short version of the curriculum. See also Case Studies on the Center for Sex Offender Management's National Resource Sites.
The most common denominator among the approaches to sex offender management developed over the past several decades is collaboration across the boundaries of agency and professional disciplines. We have already discussed the inclusion of victims and victim advocates in the supervision of sex offenders. Later, we will be examining the close links between probation/parole and treatment providers who, along with polygraph examiners, form the core of what many in the field of sex offender management refer to as the Containment Approach.


Collaboration has emerged as a key characteristic of effective sex offender supervision in jurisdictions around the country for several reasons:

Use Slide # SymbolUse Slide #3: Collaboration is Essential Because
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  • Sexual abuse falls within the purview of many criminal justice, social service, community, and public policy arenas. The police who investigate sexual abuse, the prosecutors who work with both offenders and victims to charge and prove an offense, the courts that sentence offenders, and corrections agencies that supervise offenders are only the most obvious stakeholders involved. We can add to the list: treatment providers working to intervene in offender behavior patterns, children's services agencies that are charged with protecting the victims of child sexual abuse, schools where the trauma associated with abuse is manifested in students, hospitals where victims receive treatment for the trauma associated with abuse, religious institutions where victims and their families turn for support, and state legislators who create registration, notification, sentencing, and civil commitment statutes. We could continue to add to this list for some time before it would be complete. As you can imagine, the list will vary from community to community and from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. Sexual abuse is clearly a problem that is widespread and that cuts across all segments of society. It is an issue in which all of us have a stake, and common sense tells us that we must work together if we are to address it successfully.

  • One lesson learned about sex offenders is that information and disclosure are key to breaking their sexual offending patterns and cycles. Sex offenders use manipulation, lies, denial, and deceit to keep their abusive activities secret. Sex offenders must confront their secrets before they can begin to address the behavior that jeopardizes the safety of past and potential victims. Our criminal justice system, however, often operates in such a fragmented and compartmentalized way that it enables sex offenders to maintain their secrecy and denial. How often have you been confronted by a sex offender who insists that he did not commit the crime for which he was convicted and who protests to you that he only pled guilty because of his desire to spare the victim a painful trial or because he ran out of money to pay for his legal representation? When police, prosecutors, judges, community supervision agencies, treatment professionals, victim advocates, and others work collaboratively together, it is much more difficult for offenders to maintain and continue their patterns of deception and denial.

  • Without an understanding of and commitment to collaboration, and some mechanism that fosters consistent information sharing (e.g., an interagency agreement to work together on sex offender supervision issues), it is very easy for agencies to focus only on their own organizational goals and responsibilities. True collaboration can be described as a situation in which agencies and individuals who share a common problem or set of interests set aside their agendas regarding the identified concern and come together to forge a collective agenda that addresses each party's needs. When agencies work collaboratively, therefore, it becomes much more possible to focus on a common goal—the prevention of future victimization—and work toward it.

Collaboration also promotes interagency information exchange, which enables individuals to better understand the roles and responsibilities of their colleagues in other agencies, the array of services that they provide, the ways in which one's own work influences that of others, and the methods that others are employing to address shared problems. As individuals in different agencies begin to discuss their solutions to common problems, the problem-solving ability—and the efficiency of the system as a whole—is enhanced.

In addition, collaboration fosters support for each agency and enhances the team approach that is so critical in effective sex offender management. The understanding and support that collaboration promotes increases the credibility of individual team members and each agency within the community.

When you work with a population that engenders such strong emotional reactions as sex offenders do, it's not unusual to encounter a great deal of resistance and anger from members of the community regarding the presence of these offenders in their neighborhoods. Interagency collaboration fosters a shared recognition and understanding of the requirements, responsibilities, and limitations of each agency and a collective commitment to address troublesome or difficult community-related issues. Agencies that collaborate are, therefore, able to work effectively together and present a united and supportive array of resources to communities that are grappling with these difficult issues.

Collaboration is a difficult and time-consuming endeavor. There are many challenges to successful collaboration, and it does not always work. Still, the benefits far outweigh the challenges.


Use Slide # SymbolUse Slide #4: Collaboration Between Supervision and Treatment
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An essential characteristic of emerging sex offender management practices is that sex offenders who are being supervised in the community must participate in offense-specific treatment. Perhaps the first area in which collaborative endeavors have emerged is in the relationship between probation or parole supervision and treatment. This is a good example of how collaboration has served to reshape practice toward the achievement of a common goal.

In the past, criminal justice agencies have tended to maintain a distance from treatment providers working with offenders. This distance grew, at least partially, from the traditional view of therapists as offender advocates who expected traditional client-therapist confidentiality to be respected. These views have changed among many treatment providers and criminal justice agencies.

As the unique characteristics of sex offender-specific treatment have emerged, it has become clear that effective sex offender therapy is different from traditional psychotherapy. It values the free flow of information between therapist and probation/parole officer—thereby limiting client-therapist confidentiality—and holds offenders accountable for their actions. In addition, treatment providers often play a very active role on the multidisciplinary management team, sharing information openly with their colleagues regarding offender risk and progress in treatment. Although some sex offender treatment providers stop short of stating that the victim is the client (rather than the offender whom they are treating), most will agree that preventing future victimization is a primary goal of their work. This focus has led to the incorporation of a third essential player: the victim advocate.


Use Slide # SymbolUse Slide #5: Probation/parole Officer Roles
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The Probation/Parole Officer

The probation/parole officer is the leader of the supervision team. As the representative of the criminal justice system, he or she is the primary enforcer of conditions imposed by the court and is empowered to use the coercive power of the criminal justice system to control the offender's external environment. Probation/parole officers do this through a range of different kinds of monitoring and case work, the use of restrictive intermediate sanctions, and the threat of incarceration. They ensure that relevant and important information is available to treatment providers, victim advocates, and polygraph examiners (not used in every jurisdiction) through waivers of confidentiality and meticulous fieldwork. For example, information regarding an offender's use of pornography, dishonesty (e.g., with significant others), inappropriate fantasies, and other problematic behavior is immediately made known to the treatment provider. Probation/parole officers are responsible for making recommendations to the court based on the information provided by treatment providers and polygraph examiners (if available). They also work to ensure the safety of past and potential victims by restricting offenders' activities, respond to inappropriate behavior with appropriate controls and sanctions, and reward progress when appropriate.

The probation/parole officer is often the person who manages and convenes the multidisciplinary supervision team and encourages stakeholders who are not a part of the team to begin participating in its collaborative work. Probation/parole officers often play a very active role in keeping the team together and functioning in a collaborative and mutually beneficial way.

In some jurisdictions, probation/parole officers interact directly with victims, keeping them informed of the case progress, eliciting input, and assisting in the development of a victim safety plan. In other jurisdictions, direct contact with the victim may be handled through another agency, such as a freestanding victim advocacy organization or a staff person located within a prosecutor's or probation/parole office. However, the supervision officer is always responsible for using victim impact information from available sources to accommodate victim concerns in the supervision plan.

Use Slide # SymbolUse Slide #6: Treatment Provider Roles
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The Treatment Provider

Treatment providers work to create internal controls within the mindset of the offender. These internal controls work in tandem with the external controls implemented and managed by probation/parole officers to ensure victim and community safety. Treatment providers provide information about treatment progress that may affect the supervision plan created by probation/parole officers. They may modify the treatment plan based on information from supervision agents or polygraph exams and provide valuable insights for supervision agent regarding offender risk and dangerousness.

Treatment providers may also help other members of the supervision team understand the offense so the overall supervision can better protect victims and potential victims. Treatment providers help sex offenders develop coping skills regarding the constraints of supervision and learn how to handle stress and anger appropriately. They teach offenders self-management approaches, such as relapse prevention, that help them understand and recognize the triggers that are precursors to offending behavior. They also help offenders develop victim empathy (which may lessen the likelihood of a re-offense), work with offenders to manage and reduce deviant arousal patterns, and reward progress toward treatment goals. Treatment providers may also help educate family members and other associates of the offender about sex offender behavior.

Use Slide # SymbolUse Slide #7: Victim Advocate Roles
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Refer to Handout Symbol Refer to handout: For more information about jurisdictions that have included victim advocates on their supervision teams, refer again to the CSOM Resource Site Case Studies and the policy and practice brief, Engaging Advocates and Other Victim Service Providers in the Community Management of Sex Offenders, included in its entirety in the Participant Materials for Section 2 of this short version of the curriculum.
The Victim Advocate

The primary role of victim advocates is to ensure that sex offender management policies and practices are designed and implemented in ways that promote victim safety and recovery. Advocates are also responsible for ensuring that decisions made by the supervision team consider the potential impact on victims and that victims understand the sex offender management process and their potential role in it. In jurisdictions where victim advocates are part of the supervision team, the advocate serves as the primary contact with the victim. He or she initiates contact and makes sure that information about the offender, his status, his location, and other information relevant to victim safety and well-being are communicated to the victim. The victim advocate provides support services and advocacy for primary and secondary victims, including members of the victim's or offender's families. The advocate also serves as the liaison between victims and the rest of the supervision team. He or she is responsible for ensuring that information from the victim about the offender is communicated to the team if the victim elects to have it used for this purpose. This can include information about the offender's compliance with his supervision conditions or other relevant information.

In jurisdictions where victim advocates participate on a policy level and/or as part of community outreach and education initiatives, their roles are similar in that they are responsible for promoting victim safety and recovery and minimizing revictimization. A victim advocate may be part of the community notification team and may be the one to inform a victim in advance that community notification activities about the offender are going to occur. Victim advocates also participate on policy development teams and work with treatment providers to develop components for empathy enhancement treatment and family education. Victim advocates also provide training and information to criminal justice system agencies and treatment providers on how to work more effectively with and for victims and create effective victim-centered policies.


Note: The Containment Approach as it is defined by English, Pullen, and Jones is one model for a comprehensive approach to the management of sex offenders. We also use "containment" more generally to refer to the concept of surrounding an offender with a variety of control mechanisms in order to "contain" his risk to the community.

Use Slide # SymbolUse Slide #8: The Containment Approach
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Use Slide # SymbolUse Slides #9-10: A Model Process—Containment Approach
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Up to this point, we've talked about collaboration and specifically addressed the roles of three key players: the supervising officer, the treatment provider, and the victim advocate. In this next part, we're going to talk in a little more detail about a framework for this collaboration work that includes an additional player: the polygraph examiner.

In January 1996, the results of a key piece of research were published regarding the management of sex offenders in the community. The report summarized the responses to a survey of 732 probation/parole supervisors nationwide regarding their sex offender supervision practices. In addition to finding that emerging sex offender supervision practices included a victim-centered, collaborative team approach with consistent policies and quality control mechanisms, the research found that communities were beginning to use a Containment Approach.

Containment involves the criminal justice system (probation/parole), treatment, and a polygraph examiner. (Although this particular model of sex offender management does not include victim advocates, it is consistent with a victim-centered approach.) This three-sided Containment Approach casts three individuals as a team to exchange information and share decisionmaking responsibilities.1

The Role of the Polygraph Examiner

Many individuals are familiar with the polygraph or "lie detector" as a law enforcement tool. For our purposes, it is used at the postconviction stage as a supervision and treatment tool. The use of the polygraph in this manner is increasing, but many practitioners and jurisdictions are still unfamiliar with it.

The polygraph is by no means a silver bullet or panacea. It will not solve all of the challenges associated with sex offender treatment and supervision, and its existence does not guarantee a reduction in sexual recidivism, fewer victims, or safer streets. When used responsibly and thoughtfully, and in the context of a larger, collaborative sex offender management approach, however, it can be a very valuable component of a jurisdiction's strategy to prevent future victimization.

Note: Trainers should be prepared for comments questioning the validity of the polygraph. They may want to remind participants that in this context, the polygraph is not being used to determine guilt or innocence, or as the sole basis for a revocation. Rather, it is being used solely to assist in the development and monitoring of a supervision and treatment plan, and those who are using it find it extremely helpful.

Use Slide # SymbolUse Slide #11: Polygraph Examiner Roles
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The effectiveness of the polygraph depends primarily on the training, knowledge, expertise, and skills the examiner possesses and on his or her willingness to work collaboratively with supervision agents and treatment providers (as well as their willingness to work with the polygraph examiner). Collaboration and information sharing among all parties are absolutely essential.

Polygraph examiners work in very close concert with treatment providers and supervision agents to help them accomplish several very important tasks, including—

  • Breaking down offender denial regarding the instant offense (the offense for which the offender is being supervised in the community). It is very difficult for treatment providers to work with sex offenders who continue over time to deny all or a part of their instant offense.

      Refer to Handout Symbol Refer to handout: You can read more about D'Amora's program and New Haven, Connecticut's comprehensive approach to sex offender management in the CSOM case studies.
    • David D'Amora, Center Director of the Center for the Treatment of Problem Sexual Behavior in Middletown, Connecticut, reports that before integrating the polygraph into his program's work with sex offenders, they were breaking down denial in approximately 75 percent of their cases within 6 to 9 months (in many programs, offenders still in denial after 6 to 9 months are terminated from treatment). The use of the polygraph has enabled the program to break down denial in almost 90 percent of cases in 6 months. Both research and anecdotal evicence suggest that this enhances community safety. Karl Hanson's research indicates that failure to complete treatment is a factor that increases sexual recidivism risk.

  • Assisting in the development of a sex offender's complete sexual history. Many treatment providers and supervision agents find that information in the sexual histories of the offenders with whom they are working can help them develop treatment and supervision plans that directly address the offenders' specific needs, risk factors, and offense precursors. Working in very close concert with the treatment provider and the supervision agent, the polygraph examiner can develop a strategy (that may include specific issues to broach and/or questions to ask during the polygraph examination) that will help determine whether or not a sex offender is withholding information from his sexual history (as well as the information being withheld).

  • Identifying, confirming, and/or evaluating a specific problematic behavior or allegation during supervision. Sex offenders are secretive and very manipulative. If a treatment provider or supervision agent suspects that an offender is engaging in high-risk behavior (such as abusive or deviant sexual fantasies), he or she can work in collaboration with the polygraph examiner to develop a strategy that will confirm or refute the suspicion and further clarify the nature, extent, scope, and severity of the behavior. In addition, polygraph examiners often examine sex offenders who seem to be complying with their conditions of supervision and their treatment plans. These tests, administered with significant input from treatment providers and supervision agents, can verify offenders' compliance with treatment and supervision requirements or bring to the surface problematic issues that need to be investigated further by the supervision agent and/or the treatment provider.

Three types of postconviction sex offender polygraph examinations are used to accomplish the tasks that I have just outlined. They include—

Use Slide # SymbolUse Slide #12: Types of Post-Conviction Polygraph Examinations
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  1. A full disclosure or sexual history examination to ensure complete disclosure by the offender of his sexual history. This examination is typically administered after an offender has been in treatment for 3 to 6 months and has had an opportunity to record his comprehensive sexual history in the treatment setting.

  2. A specific issue examination to evaluate a specific behavior or allegation during supervision. It is also used when an offender either is in complete denial or maintains that he did not commit the crime of conviction—in particular, offenders who are sentenced under an Alford Plea or offenders who continue to minimize their responsibility for the abuse despite their conviction. An Alford Plea allows an offender to admit that there is enough evidence to convict him at trial without admitting to the offense of record. This type of plea often subverts treatment because it is very difficult to treat a sex offender who has not admitted responsibility for his offense.

  3. A maintenance or monitoring examination to verify the offender's compliance with his treatment plan and supervision conditions. This type of exam is administered on a periodic basis, usually every 6 months. In most cases, offenders are not tested more than three times per year.

There is no consensus in the field regarding the order in which these examinations should be given or their frequency (i.e., how much time there should be between exams).2

Note: Trainers are encouraged to do some research regarding guidelines for polygraph testing in the jurisdiction(s) where they are training. The APA is a good place to start in a search for this kind of information.
Because the use of the polygraph as a sex offender supervision and treatment tool is relatively new, training, guidelines, and standards to govern its use are still under development in many states. Individuals who are interested in learning more about the use of the post-conviction polygraph exam with sex offenders should visit the American Polygraph Association's (APA's) Web site at, contact APA directly at 1-800-APA-8037, or see CSOM's training curriculum dedicated to the polygraph.

The APA is an excellent source of training for polygraph examiners who are interested in working with convicted sex offenders. When a jurisdiction (or a supervision agent or a treatment provider) identifies a polygraph examiner with whom to work, they should always inquire about the training that the examiner has received and, more specifically, if the training has been endorsed by the APA.

Refer to Handout Symbol Refer to handout: Refer to CSOM Case Studies for examples of jurisdictions that use the polygraph, and those that do not.
In sum, the polygraph is not a "silver bullet" or a "panacea" and there are jurisdictions that are doing very effective work with sex offenders without it. However, many jurisdictions have found it to be an immensely helpful piece of their sex offender management strategy. While conducting their research for The Management of Sex Offenders in the Community: A Containment Approach, the researchers heard many probation/parole practitioners observe that, although they may have been reluctant to use the polygraph originally, now they would not want to do the work without it.3 The Center for Sex Offender Management's work in the field confirms that many practitioners find the polygraph to be extremely useful in reducing lengthy periods of offender denial and encouraging offender honesty.


Use Slide # SymbolUse Slide #13: Cautions About Overlapping Roles
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Collaboration involves the sharing of responsibilities among probation/parole officers, treatment providers, victim advocates, polygraph examiners, and other stakeholders involved in the community supervision of sex offenders. All stakeholders exchange information about sex offenders and engage in problem solving to enhance effective management and community safety. In addition, they facilitate each other's work—one of the strengths of the collaborative approach. Because this approach involves collaboration and close communication among at least these three core professions (probation/parole, treatment, and polygraph), there is a tendency for team members to take on one another's roles—also known as "role creep"—and for a slight blurring or sharing of roles to occur.

Although it is appropriate and necessary for team members to possess the same information, understand each other's roles and responsibilities, share responsibility for monitoring offenders' compliance with supervision and treatment conditions, work collaboratively to assess continually the level of risk that offenders pose, and work together to counter offenders' deceit, deception, and manipulation, each party must react to the same information in very different ways. For example, it is not appropriate for a probation/parole officer to attempt a psychological intervention with a severely depressed offender or for a treatment provider to threaten incarceration during a therapy session.

(5 minutes)

Note: Depending on the audience for this training, the trainer should select one of the two optional learning activities. Option 1 would be appropriate for a cross-disciplinary group where a major objective might be to raise awareness of all of the potential stakeholders who might be involved in sex offender management and the range of resources that might be brought to bear on the issue. Option 2 would be appropriate for a more supervision-specific group. In this instance, a discussion of the implications of this information being practiced within a particular agency may be more appropriate.

Refer to Handout Symbol Refer to handout: Refer to Section 2, Exercise 1: Community Mapping.


Refer to Handout Symbol Refer to handout: Refer to Section 2, Exercise 2: Reviewing Implications.
Option 1—Community Mapping

The first step is to look at how many different players are already involved in the management of sex offenders. Please refer to your participant materials for Exercise 1. This exercise takes you through the process of "mapping" the agencies and functions involved in sex offender management in your jurisdiction.

Don't be concerned if there are gaps and holes in your chart.

Option 2—Reviewing Implications

We would like to close this section of the training with a discussion of the implications of what we have covered on your own work. Please refer to the Section 2 Exercise 2: Implications of the Materials for Participants' Work in your handouts for the discussion questions.