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Univ. of San Diego School of Law

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Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Sex Offender Relapse Prevention=Slightly More Actual Relapses

From NYTimes.com: Similar to aspects of Alcoholics Anonymous, relapse prevention has sex offenders own up to wrongdoing and resign themselves to a lifelong day-to-day struggle with temptation. But one of the few authoritative studies of the method, conducted in California from 1985 to 2001, found that those who entered relapse prevention treatment were slightly more likely to offend again than those who got no therapy at all.

Clinicians who work with sex offenders cling to relapse prevention nonetheless, and its durability speaks volumes about the troubled, politically fraught science of treating sex offenders. Not only is relapse prevention of questionable value, but so are the tests to gauge whether sex offenders in treatment still get inappropriately aroused, the drugs used for so-called chemical castration and the methods of predicting risk of reoffending.

Treatment methods have become particularly topical as thousands of sex offenders are confined or restricted beyond their prison terms under civil commitment laws on the books in 19 states. The laws have been found constitutional in part because they aim to provide treatment if possible; New York legislators announced last week that the state would soon allow civil confinement.

On average, the civil commitment programs cost four times more than keeping sex offenders in prison. But too little research has been conducted into how to treat sex offenders, experts say, putting psychotherapists and others working in civil commitment centers at a distinct disadvantage.

“It has never been regarded as a legitimate and recognized topic for research by psychologists,” said Robert A. Prentky, director of research at the Justice Research Institute in Boston. “There is a very strong undercurrent of disrespect for this area of research and perhaps even skepticism, frankly.” Rest of Article. . . [Mark Godsey]

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