Sex Offender treatment programs are floundering

The New Hampshire sex offender program received a scathing program audit last November. It said 200 prisoners were going past their minimum parole dates because the program was poorly managed. Jeff Lyons, the Corrections spokesman, said on the front page of the Concord Monitor there was no backlog as of Nov. 30, 2015.

We at Citizens for Criminal Justice Reform have worked for three years now to call attention to the lack of timely and effective therapy for sex offenders in New Hampshire prisons. A story yesterday in the Salt Lake Tribune confirmed there are other states that do just a similar job with this population.

The article below says Utah sex offenders are leaving prison long after their minimum sentences too, and that the program is grossly mismanaged. Teachers out there deal with sex offenders 12 hours a week and spend the rest of the time on paperwork. That must be a pretty easy job, except for the 12 hours a week facing people who know something is demonstrably wrong with their so-called therapy.

New Hampshire readers can do something about the problem by testifying at a legislative hearing this spring on the proposed prison rules. That package will include the suggested rules for the sex offender program. Prison officials must address every comment raised before lawmakers can authorize those rules.

Chris Dornin, co-founder, Citizens for Criminal Justice Reform

Audit slams Utah’s sex-offender treatment program in prison  4-3-17 Utah:

Sex offenders in Utah often stay in prison months beyond their parole eligibility date because of a backlog of inmates awaiting treatment overseen by the Utah Department of Corrections, according to a state audit released Monday.

And when those inmates do receive therapy, the program is a "one-size-fits-all" model with an outdated curriculum and little risk assessment. Management and staff, too, lack oversight and accountability, auditors found, limiting the number of inmates who can receive care due to rampant inefficiency.

"The shortcomings are quite extensive," said Legislative Auditor General John Schaff. That adds up to a big problem when up to one third of all inmates are serving time for a sexual offense.

The proposed solution? To reduce the waitlist, low-risk sex offenders should seek treatment outside of prison after serving their term as a condition of parole.

"These are offenders who really haven't violated anyone," Schaff said. "They've had [a conviction for] probably looking at child porn or something."

The treatment on parole recommendation was one of several offered to fix the ailing program, which spent $678,000 in fiscal 2016 to house inmates with extended incarcerations because of the delays in treatment. That is estimated to rise to $780,000 for 2017.

On average, 114 inmates complete the therapy requirements each year among the three facilities — the Utah State Prison, Sanpete County Jail and San Juan County Jail — with sex-offender programs administered by the Utah Department of Corrections. Up to 240 inmates participate in the program at a time, though it takes an average of 18 months to complete.

Of those currently in treatment, Schaff said, 37 percent are considered low-risk. In most cases, the Utah Board of Pardons and Parole requires therapy be completed before release from prison.

Rep. Jim Dunnigan, R-Taylorsville, requested the audit after hearing from Utah residents with family members behind bars who have yet to be accepted into the sex-offender program. As of October 2016, 83 inmates awaiting treatment should have already been enrolled to meet their parole deadlines.

"They were feeling that their relatives were just falling through the cracks," Dunnigan said. "They're just being warehoused and not offered an opportunity to complete the mandated treatments."

The audit suggests the backlog exists, in large part, due to mismanagement of the program by staff members who fail to comply with current practices, neglect to keep performance records, ineffectively allocate resources and rarely assess inmate progress.

"Some of the concerns we have are just that the management of the treatment is so poor," Schaff said. "Some therapists are not giving therapy at all and others are not giving very much therapy."

There has been a vacant psychologist position since August 2016, the audit reports, suggesting that noncompetitive pay keeps many qualified candidates from applying. Additionally, one of the eight therapists with the Utah Department of Corrections has not actually been working with any inmates through the sex-offender program for the past five years. Combined, those two positions could be resulting in treatment for 80 more cases at any given time — what the legislative report calls "squandered opportunities."

Each therapist also currently spends just 12 hours a week providing care, with other time devoted to paperwork. The audit says that setup does not prioritize the needed level of attention to offenders.

The inmates in the program, regardless of risk level, complete the same 300 hours of treatment. That includes weekly group therapy sessions and classes focused on anger management and relapse prevention. Some of these instructions are more than 15 years old, the audit notes.

The treatment is intended to reduce recidivism rates, though the high-intensity therapy — used to treat every level of offender — could actually "increase the risk of reoffense" for individuals who committed low-level crimes. Instead, the report suggests, the prison should offer different classes and requirements based on an inmate's crime or allow low-level offenders to get treatment after their incarceration.

That would allow "hardcore and serious offenders" to move through the prison's treatment program and reduce the backlog, Schaff suggested.

During an interim meeting Monday of the Audit Subcommittee, Department of Corrections Executive Director Rollin Cook said the prison has already begun complying with the recommendations. He hopes to address all of the steps laid out in the evaluation in six to 12 months