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Howard League blog · 28 Jun 2017

The end of sex offender treatment programmes

A few weeks ago I discovered that the prison service had quietly abandoned sex offender treatment programmes.

These courses have been a mainstay of dealing with men convicted of a range of sex crimes and have been a prerequisite for securing transfer to open conditions and eventual release from prison. Tens of thousands of men have gone through the programmes. Now, after two decades, research apparently indicates that the programmes make reoffending more likely.

Our lawyers started to get wind of the change when the young people we represent in prison told us what was happening. I tweeted about it because I wanted to find out what anyone else knew as there had been no announcement. There was only gossip.

I visited a prison and asked the governor and psychologist what was happening. I was told that the programme was indeed being ditched and that new courses were being introduced, that were ‘accredited but not evaluated’. So once again, something that seems to be a good idea is going to be imposed on people despite the fact that no one has any idea whether it will make things better or worse.

A prisoner doing a few hours a week on a behaviour programme, whilst living in a fetid, violent, unpredictable, drug ridden, filthy prison and being treated with little respect the rest of the time, seems to be to be asking a lot

The Mail on Sunday journalist, David Rose, picked up the story from my tweets and did some investigating, and an article was published on Sunday.

I have always been sceptical about prison-based offender courses. Whilst I appreciate they get people out of their cells for a few hours, and goodness knows that is a good thing, how much they really change attitudes or behaviour is a moot point.

Of course, in a prison like Grendon where the whole institution is focused on therapy and engaging people, it is well known that lives are changed and success pretty much guaranteed. However, a prisoner doing a few hours a week on a behaviour programme, whilst living in a fetid, violent, unpredictable, drug ridden, filthy prison and being treated with little respect the rest of the time, seems to be to be asking a lot.

It is disappointing nevertheless that not only do they not help but the sex offender courses appear to make things worse.

Prisons are odd places, not like real life in any way. I tend to think that expecting any behaviour courses in prisons to prevent future offending or to work magic and turn men with a history of violence, aggression and misogyny into model citizens is just not going to work.


  • J. Schultz says:

    I spent over 15 years in prison for sex crimes committed in the 1980s. We had sex offender treatment programs and very limited space. The entire focus and goal back then was to develop empathy and compassion for others, to accept responsibility for the hurt and suffering you have caused, and to make changes in how you view yourself. These goals were accomplished by group confrontation, and it often became very emotional and energized and tempers flared and voices were raised. The entire group worked together as a therapist and patient, monitored by a Ph.D. and Psych. D. My treatment lasted 4 years, 2 times per week, 3hours each. So, 6 hours a week for 4 years. That’s a lot of treatment. I graduated and received a low risk assessment for my reward, as well as early release. I was out for over 6 years without reoffending, but my parole was so impossibly difficult and stressful and grotesquely unfair that I was sent back to prison for the remainder of my sentence, 11 more years. I eventually discharged from custody in 2009. It has been over 30 years since my original offense and I have not been accused or charged with any other crimes. I am 54 years old. My point is that treatment can be of great benefit. I am certain that my prison treatment programs saved my life and I would probably have reoffend and been incarcerated for the rest of my life without it. I was so incredibly blessed and fortunate to have been accepted into the program. The program ended the same year I was released and I was one of the very last sex offenders who were granted early release. From this point onward, about the beginning of 1994 onwards, not a single sex offender was paroled. They all served the entirety of their sentences. The sex offender program was ended and replaced with a the current ser up that you are saying is now being eliminated. The two doctors who ran our program, they were married couple and internationally recognized for their expertise, they went on to develop and manage the sex offender program in Bermuda in 1995. And these dates marked the beginning of the great hate campaign against sex offenders, the beginning of the sex offenders registry, civil commitments and elimination of treatment programs and parole. Now 25 years later I read that treatment doesn’t work. Really, I don’t doubt that, but it used to work. I am proud to be able to say to my treatment providers and groups, with great thanks for the help they gave to me, the patience and effort and hard work, I can stand before you and with humility and great love for you all that I have not created another victim, I have changed and become a better man, compassionate and empathetic to the feelings and needs of others, especially women and those I have victimized in my youth. I continue to work on my own, never allowing myself to believe for a moment that I am entitled to anything and always aware that I could potentially reoffend. All of this is as strong in my heart and mind as it was 25 years ago. Real sex offender treatment can work . No doubt about it.

  • Anonnymous says:

    I was on one of the last of these programs in prison and can categorically say it wasn’t really taken seriously but prisoners or even people running it. It was just being used as a way to support judgements already made by courts. I found it strange that I was being put through a process that was known to be flawed yet still required to go along with it. I was at one of the safer prisons but conditions were far from what they should be. It’s quite frustrating that even after release on licence, I’m being subject to judgments made under a discontinued system. Of course I have to go along with it otherwise there’s the ever present threat of recall hanging over me and my family.

  • Lisa says:

    They don’t want to fix the problem or help people, they would rather make it a political platform and charge taxpayers for registries nonsense.

    • Trevor says:

      I think that what we need is respect for women and men need to control themselves in the presence of women.

  • Une says:

    People will only benefit from courses if they go into them with a genuine desire to change. Attending a course to avoid sanction, or because you might get out earlier, is not sufficient commitment. We should not force prisoners on to courses, but only permit people who are committed to change to attend.
    Such courses must be delivered by people with mental health training (real training, not just a couple of days ‘awareness’) so they can deliver appropriate responses to this difficult and needy cohort.
    All in all it is a disastrous waste of money which has caused great harm. MoJ should review all ‘interventions’ and see which are effective – not an easy thing to do, but not impossible.
    All interventions, individual and group, should be headed up by an appropriately qualified therapist – officers and support staff can help, but they should not take responsibility.
    In groups people must not be allowed to retell their offences in gory detail, which is bad for them and the others present. Focus must be on choice, feelings, behaviour management – this is complex and takes a professional to manage. You cannot push people through a sausage-machine CBT course and expect miracles.

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