What Effect Does Treatment Have on Sex Offense Recidivism — Experts Domestic & Abroad Sound Off

The below came from “The Legal Pad” Volume 3, Issue 12, (December 10, 2019) pp. 7-8 published by Cyrus P. Gladden, II from the gulag in Moose Lake, Minnesota.


I.  The View in the U.S.: There is no scientific consensus or clear evidence that sex offender treatment has any significant impact on sex crime recidivism  


Anne R. Izzi, “Constitutional Law – The Cage a Fetish Can Build: Proposed Legislative Reform for Civil Commitment Procedures in Sexually Violent Predator Laws,” 39 Western New England Law Review 141, at pp. 145-46 (2017), states: 

…[T]he facilities that do offer treatment are not beneficial because, as of yet, researchers in the field have not found any successful treatment options.”30

“…[T]he issue is not treatment standards, but rather the current lack of any viable treatment methods in the field of sex offender management.”

[Citing: David W. Nordsieck, “How the Professional Judgment Standard Could Undermine the Validity of Sexually Violent Predator Laws,” 88 Wash. U. L. Rev. 1281, 1284 (2011)]

When it comes to recidivism, sex offender treatment is purely just a wash. Thomas K. Zander, “Civil Commitment Without Psychosis: The Law’s Reliance on the Weakest Link in Psychodiagnosis,” 1 Journal of Sexual Offender Civil Commitment: Science and the Law 17 (2005), at p. 35, observe that:

“…[R]esearch regarding the treatment of sex offenders continues to show that treatment has little or no effect on sexual recidivism rates (Marques, Wiederanders, Day, Nelson, & van Ommeren, [“Effects of relapse Prevention Program on Sexual Recidivism: Final Results From California’s Sex Offender Treatment and evaluation project (SOTEP),” 17 Sexual Abuse: A Journal of Research and Treatment 79-107] 2005; Lösel & Schmucker, 2005) For example, Hanson, Broom, and Stephenson (2004) compared the recidivism rates of 403 treated sex offenders to those of 321 untreated sex offenders over a 12‐year period and found no significant differences between the two groups as to sexual recidivism, violent recidivism, or general recidivism.”

Heather Ellis Cucolo & Michael L. Perlin, “Preventing sex offender recidivism through Therapeutic jurisprudence approaches and Specialized Community Integration,” 22 Temp. Pol. Civ. Rts. L. Rev. 1 (Fall 2012), at pp. 12-14, quoting Astrid Birgden & Heather Ellis Cucolo, “The Treatment of SEx Offenders: Evidence, Ethics, and Human Rights,” 23 Sexual Abuse: Journal of Research & Treatment 295, 299-300 (2011)

“…[T]here is no consensus as to the effectiveness of treatment or whether the treatment that is made available to this population has had any real effect on risk reduction.  relatively little is known about which sex offenders will benefit from treatment, what treatment is most effective, and how treatment affects recidivism.  The question then becomes: does treatment hold any verifiable outcome of effectiveness for this population; and if not, then at what point does it become clear that this detention offers no other purpose but for continued confinement post criminal sentence, thus implicating a punitive statutory design?”

“…Commentators have stated that sex offender ‘civil commitment, in particular, has been described by civil libertarians as preventive detention masquerading as coerced treatment that threatens rehabilitation, justice, and constitutional values, and legitimizes warehousing.’  Additionally, treatment providers in these institutions may lack competency and qualification, which supports the notion that treatment is only in place to make the case for continued confinement after prison.”  .

Accord: Marnie E. Rice & Grant T. Harris, “The Size and Sign of Treatment Effects in Sex Offender Therapy,” 989 Annals N.Y. Acad. Psy. 428, 428 (2003) (“We conclude that the effectiveness of psychological treatment for sex offenders remains to be demonstrated.”)

Accord: Isaac D. Buck, “The Indefinite Quarantine: A Public Health Review of Chronic Inconsistencies in Sexually Violent Predator Statutes,” 87 St. John Law Rev. 847-897 (2013), at p. 861N69 (“…[T]he success of sex offender treatment remains unclear. See Jill S. Levinson, et al., `Public Perceptions About Sex Offenders and Community Protection Policies,’ 7 Analyses Soc. Issues & Pub. Pol’y 1, 6 (2007): (Noting that studies have concluded that recidivism rates of those treated and untreated are undifferentiated….)”)

Daniel Montaldi, “A Study of the Efficacy of the Sexually Violent Predator Act in Florida,” 41 Wm. Mitchell Law Rev. 780-865 (2015), at 843, declares: 

“At this point in time, no form of treatment — inpatient or outpatient — shows a clearly measurable effect in reducing risk for offenders recommended for commitment in Florida. However, a lack of efficacy does not mean that treatment programming has been poorly designed or administered. It seems more likely that rates for untreated offenders, even those thought by experts to be especially high risk, are already so low that no intervention short of physical incapacitation can reduce rates further, at least not significantly. A kind of statistical ‘floor’ effect in sexual recidivism may be occurring.”

Adding at p. 845:

“…[T]here appears to be no discernible risk-reducing effect coming from progressing in treatment or completing it….”

At pp. 862-63, speaking specifically to Minnesota, Montaldi concludes on this point:

“With rates as low as they are, even for untreated offenders, it is unlikely that any intervention can significantly lower rates any further. This may reflect a kind of statistical floor effect. Any group of released sex offenders will have some percentage of offenders going on to offend again. It is not realistic to expect any treatment program to produce a zero recidivism rate.”

But this “zero recidivism”  “public safety guarantee” (Anita Schlank) is exactly MSOP’s true mission!

“The data support an even stronger conclusion, albeit one that bears further study. Data so far provide little if any evidence of a treatment effect at all for offenders considered by mental health experts to be sexually violent predators, whether inpatient or outpatient. Detainees granted full discharges with no expected treatment have sexual recidivism rates about as low as offenders with settlement agreements and formerly committed offenders.”

“No treatment program will produce a zero recidivism rate.”

Michael Barzee, “Fifteen Years and Counting: The Past, Present, and Future of Missouri’s Sexually Violent Predator Act,” 82 UMKC Law Rev. 513 (Winter 2014), offers these observations about the realpolitik of abdicating safeguarding of constitutional rights to treatment professionals: 

At p. 521:

“…[A] nationally accepted standard of treatment has not been adopted, which is due mostly to the ineffectiveness of these new forms of treatment. The lack of standard has created problems because of how courts use the professional judgment standard in SVP cases.”

At pp. 523-24:

“‘There is not enough current scientific evidence about the efficacy of sex offender treatments to warrant strict confidence in any set of treatment guidelines.’  [Citing: Gregory DeClue, “Practice Standards and Guidelines for the Evaluation, Treatment, and Management of Sexual Abusers: Bamboozle No More,” 34 Psychiatry & Law 197, 207 (2006)]…[S]uch deference to a professional judgement standard becomes a problem, like here, where there is no accepted professional judgment, practice, or standard for the treatment of SVPs….

“The professional judgement rule presents another problem in that it essentially transfers the safeguarding of constitutional rights from the courts to mental health professionals.  [Citing: Sharp v. Weston, 233 F. 3d 116, 117 (9th Cir. 2000)] ‘Courts abandon their obligation to apply the law in a principled manner when they persist in using a standard that fails to provide a reliable metric. This creates a very broad, perhaps effectively limitless zone of discretion’ because administrators could see to it that an SVP receives treatment that would be enough to pass judicial scrutiny even though such treatment in actuality would provide no real possibility of resulting in rehabilitation sufficient for release.  As a result, administrators, through the use of the professional judgement standard, could detain an SVP indefinitely. [Citing: David W. Nordsieck, Note: How the Professional Judgement Standard Could Undermine the Validity of Sexually Violent Predator Laws,” 88 Wash. U. Law Rev. 1281, 1300 (2011)]”

At p. 525:

“Instead of focusing on whether the treatment substantially departed from the non-existent accepted standard, the court could look to factors such as ‘the treatment program’s effectiveness relative to similar state’s programs, whether the chosen treatment decisions are supported by research, whether there has been a history of abuse or improper implementation of the scheme in that state,’… [Citing: Nordsieck, supra, at 1305]”


As is confirmed by the Minnesota Sex Offender Program (MSOP) Program Theory Manual, MSOP is grounded in “cognitive behavioral therapy” (CBT).   Jennifer E. Schneider et al., “SOCCPN Annual Survey of Sex Offender Civil Commitment Programs 2014,SOCCPN, San Diego (October 27, 2014) p. 26, reports that “the percentage of treatment programs in use in the various commitment programs that use cognitive behavioral treatment as an organizing principle of their treatment program fell by half between 2007 and 2014 (2007: 90%; 2014: 47%).”  (Just Future Project was not able to verify or locate this quote in the hyperlinked pdf; however, page 26 includes a slide with the data cited in parentheses.)  This reflects a professional realization that CBT does not work to achieve any end relevant to sex crime recidivism reduction.  Thus, it is clear that once again, MSOP has spent more than the last decade chasing an experimental treatment theory/modality that was invalid ab initio and simply served to consume years of confinement. 

Thus, Fredrick E. Vars, “Fear of an Undeterrable Other,” 75 La. L. Rev. 1 (Fall 2014), concludes:

“…’[T]he notion that the sex offenders are being medically “treated“ as part of this [preventative detention] program is largely a fiction.’92 Treatment, even when sincerely pursued, is usually ineffective.93 Perhaps as a result, very few sex offenders are ever released,94 leaving prevention as the primary, and perhaps only genuine, justification. Hence, sex offender commitment amounts to indefinite preventive detention, like the national security detentions discussed above. The driving force—fear of an undeterrable Other—is also the same.” 

92. Corey Rayburn Yung, “Sex Offender Exceptionalism and Preventive Detention,” 101 J. CRIM. L. & CRIMINOLOGY 969, 983 (2011) 

93. Fredrick E. Vars,“Delineating Sexual Dangerousness,” 50 HOUS. L. REV. 855 (2013), at 857 n.14. 

94. See John L. Schwab, Note, “Due Process and ‘The Worst of the Worst’: Mental Competence in Sexually Violent Predator Civil Commitment Proceedings,” 112 COLUM. L. REV. 912, 917 (2012) (“Of the over 3,000 individuals detained as SVPs since 1990, just fifty have been released because medical professionals deemed them mentally stable and non dangerous enough to re-enter society.”). 

“On the other hand, preventive detention works only if we can accurately identify individuals who are very likely to commit crimes. Sex offender commitment relies on some of the best actuarial instruments, but few, if any, individuals can be confidently classified as more likely than not to commit an offense.200 Many—perhaps most—detained sex offenders would not commit a crime if released.” 

200. Fredrick E. Vars,“Rethinking the Indefinite Detention of Sex Offenders,” 44 CONN. L. REV. 161 (2011)

Warren J. Maas, “Erosion of Constitutional Rights in Commitment of Sex Offenders,” 29 William Mitchell Law Review 1241, 1244 (2003), states:

“…[U]nder the SPP/SDP statutes, substantive due process for persons alleged to be sexual predators has greatly eroded and the rationale for allowing such erosion — the promise of rehabilitation under the SPP/SDP statutes for these men — is of questionable validity…. When the courts ignore the fact that treatment is not working, proposed patients are indeterminately committed to unproven treatment programs, negating one justification for the commitment.”

II.  The View Elsewhere: There is Very Little or No Effect at Recidivism Reduction 


Martin Schmucker & Friedrich Lösel, “The Effects of Sexual Offender Treatment on Recidivism: An International Meta-Analysis of Sound Quality Evaluations,” Journal of Experimental Psychology (2015)

At p. 35, in their “Appendix 2: Relevant studies that appeared more recently” the authors cite the following studies that reveal little or no effect on recidivism reduction by treatment of sex offenders, as compared to a control group not receiving any treatment:


1. Canada

Jeffrey Abracen, Jan Looman, Meaghan Ferguson, Leigh Harkins & Donna Mailloux, “Recidivism among treated sexual offenders and comparison subjects: Recent outcome data from the Regional Treatment Centre (Ontario) high-intensity Sex Offender Treatment Programme,” Journal of Sexual Aggression 17 (2011), 142-152, DOI: 10.1080/13552600903511980: “The treatment was both individual and group based, applied a cognitive-behavioral relapse prevention concept and incorporated the Good Lives Model.  …[T]here was no significant difference in recidivism between TG [treatment group] and CG [control group].”


2. Australia

S. Smallbone, & M. McHugh, “Outcomes of Queensland Corrective Services Sexual Offender Treatment Programs,” Unpublished Report. Brisbane, Australia: Griffith University (2010), (Australian sex offender sample.) “Analyses controlling for risk only found a small and non-significant treatment effect for sexual recidivism.”


3. The Netherlands

Wineke J. Smid, Jan Henk Kamphuis, Edwin C. Wever, & Daan Van Beek, “A Quasi-Experimental Evaluation of High-Intensity Inpatient Sex Offender Treatment in the Netherlands,” Sexual Abuse: A Journal of Research and Treatment. (2014) doi: 10.1177/1079063214535817 (Dutch sample.) “The concept is based on the Risk-Need-Responsivity model.  …The results showed no overall significant treatment effect on sexual recidivism when regressions controlled for risk level, age and ethnicity.” 



One Comment:

  1. An article posted in the Daily Mail on June 24 2016 caught my eye, why?, because it’s something that I have been saying for years and nobody has been listening to.
    So here is the link to the article: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-4635876/Scandal-100million-sex-crime-cure-hubs.html and some of the basic information that is in the article, “The scandal of the sex crime ‘cure’ hubs: How minister buried report into £100 million prison programme to treat paedophiles and rapists that INCREASED re-offending rates”.

    Sex Offender Treatment Programme is psychological group-therapy course Believed to have cost taxpayers over £100 million since it was set up in 1991

    Prisoners who take the rehabilitation courses are at least 25 per cent more likely to be convicted of further sex crimes than those who do not.

    “Paedophiles convicted of physically attacking children are especially likely to offend again after taking the SOTP”


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