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.