This can be a controversial subject. What constitutes success? Do we look only at sexual reoffenses, or also at related (compulsive) behaviors like alcoholism, drugs, gambling, etc.? What about other crimes - burglary, assaults, etc.? Do we look at the probationary period only, or is post treatment considered? If post, how long? How do we get data? Self report? Crime reports? Family follow-up?
A June 1991 report to the State of Washington legislature also supports community treatment as a viable alternative for sex offenders. The report covers 613 probation eligible offenders sentences between January 1985 and July 1986. Three hundred thirteen of these actually received probation sentences while 300 were sent to prison. Both groups were followed. The probationers had significantly lower re-arrest rates and conviction rates in all crime categories. The study concluded that, generally speaking, probationary sentences did not place the community at undue risk and offered a cost - effective alternative to prison.
An Oregon study of sex offender monitoring using polygraphy indicated dramatic success having offenders complete their probationary periods without reoffenses.
In 1999 Margaret Alexander, Ph.D. (Oshkosh, Wis. Correctional Facility) examined no less than 424 studies. After eliminating most of them because they were poorly done she presented an analysis of the remaining 79studies covering 10, 988 offenders with some being followed as long as ten years post treatment. (Sexual Abuse; A Journal of Research and Treatment, 11(2) Here are some of her findings.
Data from a variety of sources show that “some treatment is not better than none” is an unwarranted attitude. Treatment dropouts reoffend at the same or higher rates than do untreated offenders.
None of this represents true controlled studies. Such experiments are under way in California and Vermont using inpatient populations and preliminary data are interesting, but samples are so small that statistically significant data will not be available until 2005. Even then, we will not necessarily be able to generalize to outpatient programs. Controlled outpatient studies may never be done because of reluctance to have matched controls at large in the community without any treatment. (Studies comparing various forms of treatment are however, feasible and should be done.)
Robert Prentky, Ph.D. (Bridgewater. Mass. Correctional Facility) developed a cost effectiveness model for "success." He suggested comparing the cost of prosecuting a single reoffense, incarcerating the offender, and treating one additional victim to the cost of meaningfully treating an offender during his initial incarceration. According to his figures, the Bridgewater program is cost effective if it reduces reoffenses by 11%, it. When Janice Marques applied his model to California she arrived at a 14% cutoff.
Given available data, it appears that out patient programs do much better than 11 - 14% offense reduction. In fact, it does not seem unreasonable to assume we reduce reoffenses by a third or more, that we teach offenders empathy, encouraging them to treat others better in non-sexual ways as well, and that we make a significant contribution to their social functioning. (reduce non-sexual crimes, improve employment performance, etc.)
The United States already locks up a greater percentage of its people than any western nation while California, with about 10% of the country's population accounts for about 14% of the U.S. prison population. Under theses circumstances, strict conditions of probation, close monitoring and quality treatment paid for by the offenders themselves is clearly the most promising alternative.