British Prime Minister Boris Johnson lifted COVID-19 restrictions there and said, “It`s time to move from government restrictions to personal responsibility.” Immediately my mind said What a great solution to the challenge of making sure sex offenders don`t reoffend. If you can`t see the connection, let me explain.
The U.S. Government and society in general seem to believe that the best way to prevent a sex offender form reoffending is to pile on a ton of restrictions, making sure there`s no possible chance he could reoffend. Despite long prison sentences, lifetime supervised release terms for sex offenders, and the nearly impossible sex-offender registration requirements, some sex offenders still manage to reoffend. While it`s rare that this happens, it only takes one new offense by a sex offender to have people saying, “See! I told you they can`t be trusted.”
These over-the-top restrictions clearly don`t work, not if anyone who`s been convicted of a sex offense commits a new offense while under those restrictions. This is where Boris Johnson`s statement made sense to me. In a system that has only relied on adding more restrictions on sex offenders to prevent them from reoffending, I think turning to personal responsibility can play a huge role in preventing sexual reoffending and even first offenses from happening.
It doesn`t take much effort, but it does require a new way of thinking. And I think this is where the government fails its citizens. You know what the recidivism rate is for sex offenders who complete an in-depth treatment program, like the BOP`s Residential Sex Offender Treatment Program (SOTP-R)? Around 1%. You know why? Because the program focuses on personal responsibility from day one.
However, there are thousands of sex offenders in the BOP but only 70 of them in the SOTP-R at FMC Devens up near Boston. The problem is that the myths about sex offender treatment are so many and varied that most sex offenders in the BOP won`t volunteer for treatment. In more than a dozen years working with sex offenders in the federal system, I`ve heard just about every rumor (myth) there is about sex offender treatment in the BOP.
I just talked to some guys that started the Devens program last week and they all said that when they asked staff at their former prisons about this program, they said they had no info. One guy said staff told him the program at Devens was for the “worst of the worst” and he didn`t qualify. Yet when I asked him a few questions, he clearly qualified for the program. How many other people miss out on a chance to learn personal responsibility and move forward toward a good life free of any new offenses?
The path to personal responsibility, for sure, begins with the person who must take those steps. I sincerely believe that most, of not all, sex offenders I`ve worked with in the BOP don`t want to reoffend. But they need help with this, not more restrictions imposed by the government.
Because sex offender treatment is the key to personal responsibility, and because personal responsibility is the key to preventing sexual offending, it`s crucial that the BOP ensures the information on its sex offender treatment programs is accurate and widely available.
I intend to provide as much information as possible about the treatment options for sex offenders in the BOP. I hope to knock out as many myths as I can with this effort. Stay tuned for future posts with “inside info” on what the BOP`s sex-offender treatment programs are really like.
Dale Chappell is the author of hundreds of published articles on the federal criminal justice system, and the Insider`s Guide series of federal post-conviction books. He is a consultant in federal post-conviction procedure and an authority on federal sex offense issues.