Support for Treatment

A final area for stakeholders to explore is the degree to which treatment is supported within the broader system of sex offender management. Indeed, while the effectiveness of interventions is largely a function of the structure and quality of the existing treatment programs, the potential impact of these programs cannot be fully realized in the absence of external support. In many jurisdictions, treatment is mandated for sex offenders, either through legislation, agency policies, or court orders. However, in and of themselves, treatment mandates are not necessarily indicative of support. Rather, support for treatment—and the ways in which that support is demonstrated—depends heavily upon an appreciation of its value in enhancing community safety.

Another powerful strategy for demonstrating the value of sex offender treatment is through the use of cost–benefit analyses.

One way to highlight the value of treatment is to engage key stakeholders in an open and ongoing dialogue about the current empirical evidence for ‘what works,’ what does not work, and what remains unknown with respect to sex offender management strategies. Providing an objective and user–friendly synthesis of the ever–expanding body of treatment effectiveness research can quickly illuminate the significant impact treatment has on reducing recidivism. In addition, it can highlight the diversity of the sex offender population and provide helpful insight into differential risk factors and their influence on recidivism rates, which ideally emphasizes the potential pitfalls of “one size fits all” strategies. Furthermore, when the known impact of treatment for adult and juvenile sex offenders is viewed within the context of the limited research on other sex offender management strategies, the value of treatment is drawn into even sharper focus.

Another powerful strategy for demonstrating the value of sex offender treatment, and thereby garnering support for treatment, is through the use of cost–benefits analyses. Cost–benefits analyses within the sex offender treatment field compare the costs associated with providing sex offender treatment against the tangible costs associated with new reoffenses (e.g., medical and mental health services for victims, the investigation and prosecution of these cases, incarceration/placement) (see, e.g., Cohen & Miller, 1998; Donato & Shanahan, 2001; Prentky & Burgess, 1990; Shanahan & Donato, 2001). Researchers have repeatedly demonstrated that the cost of treatment programs is far outweighed by the benefits to victims, communities, the courts, and criminal justice systems (Aos et al., 2001; Cohen & Miller, 1998; Donato & Shanahan, 2001; Prentky & Burgess, 1990; Shanahan & Donato, 2001). In addition to tangible costs for victims, there are a number of intangible but nonetheless very real costs (e.g., emotional, psychological, and other internalized effects on victims, families, and communities). When factored into these analyses, the benefits of treatment increase dramatically (Donato & Shanahan, 2001; Shanahan & Donato, 2001).

Therefore, treatment providers, researchers, and others should ensure that legislators and key agency policymakers—particularly those who have responsibility for allocating resources—have access to this compelling data. And to bring the point closer to home, state and local agencies should collect treatment effectiveness data from in–state programs and conduct local cost–benefits analyses to examine the impact and implications of treatment specific to their own jurisdictions. This same data can be vital for public education efforts as a means of garnering additional support for treatment services and other necessary resources within the community.

As has been emphasized throughout this protocol, multidisciplinary collaboration and specialized understanding of research about victims, offenders, and management strategies are vital to supporting evidence–based policies and practices. The following are just a few examples of how multiple disciplines, entities, and individuals throughout the system can demonstrate the recognized value of and ongoing support for sex offender treatment as part of an integrated approach:

Beyond eliciting the support of external stakeholders, treatment providers themselves can ensure that treatment remains an influential component of a broader sex offender management strategy in multiple ways, including the following:


The treatment of adult and juvenile sex offenders is a key component of a comprehensive approach. Its value and impact can be maximized when it is available and accessible on a continuum, driven by research–supported models of change, focused on variables that are likely to reduce recidivism, individualized based on assessed risk and needs, delivered by qualified providers in a way that facilitates engagement, and supported by key stakeholders throughout the system.

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