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Sex Offender Treatment and Assessment

About 21 percent of the offenders in Washington prisons and 18 percent of offenders on community supervision are serving time for sexual crimes, making their management and treatment a major concern for the Department of Corrections (DOC) and the community. DOC and its partners have a comprehensive system consisting of confinement, treatment, supervision, notification and civil commitment whose ultimate goal is public safety. For more information review the Sex Offender Treatment Program fact sheetAdobe PDF document file.

The three primary goals for the Sex Offender Treatment Program are:
  1. Help the offender learn to reduce and manage their risk to reoffend.
  2. Provide information to aid DOC and the community to monitor and manage offenders more effectively.
  3. Remain accountable to the people of Washington State by routinely evaluating and aligning SOTAP with evidence based practices.

Learn More about Sex Offender Treatment

Explore the following sections to learn more sex offender treatment in prisons and in the community:

Prison Treatment

The Department operates prison treatment programs for male and female offenders at four prison sites:

The Sex Offender Treatment and Assessment Program (SOTAP) started in 1989 at the Twin Rivers Unit (TRU) in the Monroe Correctional Complex (MCC) as part of DOC's mission to improve public safety. In 2004, the program was expanded to the Washington Corrections Center for Women (WCCW), Airway Heights Corrections Center (AHCC) in 2009, and again at the Special Offender Unit (SOU) at the Monroe Correctional Complex in 2016.

Expansion of SOTAP at the SOU is in response to to an increasing number of offenders with serious mental illness who are in need of access to sexual deviancy treatment. At any given time, there are approximately 250 clients actively participating in the SOTAP between the four prison sites. The program provides prison based treatment to approximately 400-600 clients annually. The TRU, SOU and AHCC programs are for adult male sex offenders, and each have the capacity to treat approximately 180 offenders at a time. While the program at WCCW provides treatment for 10-25 women at a time. Prior to 2012, the majority of SOTAP participants scored in the low to low/moderate range for sexual re-offense. This was due to a variety of factors to include prior practices and policy which had been supported by research but have since been revised.

Since 2013, the SOTAP has instituted policy and procedure changes to assess, screen, and engage higher risk offenders with a goal of increasing entrance and retention in treatment. This is in accordance with best practices in the field and adhering to the Risk Need Responsivity (RNR) model. This model outlines practices to provide treatment to the higher risk offenders, targeting criminogenic needs, and delivering treatment through a cognitive behavioral approach.

The Department of Corrections defines recidivism as "any felony offense committed by an offender within 36 months of release from prison which results in a readmission to prison." In 2015, the Department is able to examine recidivism rates of offenders completing the SOTAP and being released from prison as recently as 2012. Results indicate all sex offenders released from the Department of Corrections prisons had a recidivism rate of 18.2 percent and sex offenders who did not complete SOTAP had a recidivism rate of 21.5 percent, while sex offenders who completed SOTAP recidivated at a rate of 6.5 percent. It is believed that the rates of recidivism among sexual offenders who complete the SOTAP may increase due to the selection of higher risk candidates beginning in 2013. The DOC will continue to monitor trends and make changes to the program accordingly. In general, the single largest felony sex offense bringing sex offenders back to prison (86 percent) is for failing to register. An estimated 95 percent of the sex offenders sentenced to prison eventually return to the community.

Sex offender treatment is part of the Department's commitment to improving public safety. In a comprehensive effort, the Department provides programming through the RNR model and customizes interventions to address the specific criminogenic needs of individual offenders. Other examples of the comprehensive programming outside of the SOTAP include, education, employment training, substance abuse treatment and cognitive behavioral interventions.

A key pillar of the treatment, SOTAP clients can learn to avoid sexual aggression as well as learn and apply the skills they need to live responsibly in the community. Self-Regulation is an important element of treatment which affords the participant opportunities to learn about and practice interventions to more effectively and pro-socially meet their needs. Treatment begins with comprehensive assessments which include psychological tests, clinical interviews designed to define treatment goals, and strategies for each offender. Working collaboratively with their therapist, offenders learn what lead to past offenses and then work to develop pro-social attitudes, thinking, and skills needed to reduce the likelihood of re-offending and increase pro-social living.

Program participants receive individual and group therapy. Group sessions generally have 12 to 14 members and meet six hours per week during the institutional phase of treatment. Additionally, clients have monthly individual sessions with their therapist. Participants who complete the institutional phase are expected to participate in aftercare treatment in the community which typically lasts from 6-12 months depending on individual risk factors, compliance with supervision and treatment progress.

The goals of group therapy include:

  1. Help the offender gain insight and understanding of their individual pathway which led to sexually offending.
  2. Develop, implement, and monitor both cognitive and behavioral interventions to recognize and intervene on their specific dynamic risk factors.
  3. Teach relapse prevention and skills necessary for the offender to reduce, and control risk.
  4. Help the offender learn the attitudes, thinking skills, and behaviors necessary to live pro-socially.
  5. Help the offender prepare to use their new skills and knowledge in the community.

Additional specialty groups address sexual deviancy, life skills, self-regulation skills, co-occurring needs such as sexual deviancy, and chemical dependency, and other topics.

Offenders admitted to the sex offender treatment programs must meet the following criteria:

  1. The offender must have been convicted of a sex offense for his or her current or a previous term of incarceration.
  2. He or she must be eligible for release at some future date.
  3. He or she must acknowledge/recall having committed at least one sex offense.
  4. He or she must agree to attend SOTAP and follow treatment rules and expectations.

Treatment priority is given to higher risk offenders. Sentence structure, court ordered treatment, and release date dictate additional prioritization practices. The program is approximately 9-12 months in duration and typically occurs in the last 12-18 months of the participant's incarceration.

Offenders can be terminated from treatment for assaults and fighting, sexual behavior that cannot be managed through formal interventions, intentionally violating confidentiality, failing to make progress in treatment, being placed in a higher security category than that allowable by the treatment facility such as maximum, engaging in behaviors that are disruptive to the operation of the program and/or institution, or using illicit substances.

Many higher risk sex offenders don't volunteer to participate in treatment on their own. Beginning in 2014, the SOTAP instituted the practice of completing face to face screenings with all sex offenders coming in through the Reception and Diagnostic Center in Shelton, Washington. Through the use of motivational interviewing techniques and the development of a therapeutic rapport, the SOTAP has seen a dramatic increase in the rates of higher risk sex offenders volunteering to participate in the treatment program. Due to the increase in higher risk offenders volunteering to participate in the program, the SOTAP has not had sufficient capacity to allocate treatment resources to lower risk offenders.

Community Treatment

DOC and its partners also continue that treatment in community supervision after they have served their prison time. Sex offenders about to leave prison undergo a classification process to assess their risk to the public. DOC and its partners ensure the proper authorities, organizations and potential victims know the whereabouts of sex offenders leaving prison and impose special safeguards on the offenders thought to pose the highest risk to the public.

97% of offenders currently serving time for sexual offense will eventually return to our communities. Most offenders spend two years in prison and 67% have sentences of 18 months of less, although sentences for sex offenders tend to be longer than the typical sentence for other crimes.

Approximately 21% of the more than 16,000 offenders in Washington prisons have sex crimes as their most serious convictions or were serving time for a sexual offense.

The statistics mean that a large number of sex offenders return to their communities within a few years of their crimes--making community treatment and risk/needs based management key elements of their rehabilitation and subsequently in the best interest of community safety.

Like the prison-based programs, community-based treatment relies on comprehensive risk and needs assessments, clinical interviews and other techniques designed to define treatment goals and strategies for each offender. Treatment provided in prison serves as the foundation for offender participants who must then apply and generalize the skills and knowledge gained to a community setting.

The goals of group therapy include:

  1. Help keep the offender focused and attentive to the insight and understanding gained in treatment regarding their individual pathway which led to sexually offending.
  2. Continue to develop, implement, and monitor cognitive and behavioral interventions in order to recognize and intervene on their specific dynamic risk factors.
  3. Apply and monitor the offenders relapse prevention and progress towards pro-social goals/activities.
  4. Help the practice and improve attitudes, thinking skills, and behaviors necessary to maintain a pro-social lifestyle.
  5. Help the offender apply their new skills and knowledge in the community and make necessary adjustments when they experience set-backs.

While in treatment and on community supervision, each offender is provided with opportunities to continue to put the knowledge and skills as identified above into practice. Community sex offender treatment providers and community corrections officers work collaboratively; sharing risk relevant information in order to tailor an individualized and comprehensive offender management strategy. This has been demonstrated to be the most effective sex offender community management approach.

The DOC’s community sex offender treatment programs continue to offer participants individual counseling and group therapy for approximately 6-12 months post release. As with the prison treatment program, the duration of community treatment is dependent upon a comprehensive risk and needs assessment as well as observed compliance in regards to supervision and treatment conditions.

Rules in the Community

Sex offenders who are releasing from confinement with required Department of Corrections (DOC) supervision may be supervised in the community under strict rules designed to protect their victims, vulnerable people, the general public and the offender.

In addition to requiring sex offender registration, the courts, and the DOC can impose many conditions and requirements for the period of DOC supervision. Offenders may be required to report to a Community Corrections Officer (CCO) whose primary responsibility is to help offenders become law abiding citizens while holding the offenders accountable.

Supervision:

Offenders must report to their CCO and be available for contact as directed and often must remain within specified geographic boundaries.

Registration:

Sex and kidnapping offenders who are required by law to register must do so prior to leaving state, county or city confinement. They must follow up by registering in person within 24 hours of their release at their county sheriff’s office.

Living arrangements:

Community corrections officers must approve sex offenders’residence and living arrangements. Offenders cannot move without permission. Generally, the release address of sex offenders is scrutinized to assess potential risk to the community and for the offender. Sex offenders often cannot own or control personal computers. If community corrections officers permit access to computers, they normally must have blocks that prevent access to specific sites. Offenders also cannot have contact with magazines, videos, telephone sites or anything else with pornographic content. Offenders must allow their community corrections officers to inspect every part of their homes.

Treatment:

Many offenders must obtain psycho-sexual evaluations and treatment from state-certified sexual deviancy counselors. Those who are required to do so must authorize their CCO to monitor their progress in treatment. Typically, offenders are not permitted to change counselors without approval and they must submit to polygraph and plethysmograph (which measure sexual arousal) testing at their own expense at the direction of their therapist or CCO.

Alcohol and drugs:

Offenders cannot purchase, possess or consume any mind or mood altering substances, including alcohol or drugs that haven’t been prescribed by doctors. They may have to undergo chemical dependency treatment and follow prescribed treatment, which may include Alcoholics Anonymous or other recovery meetings. Offenders are required to submit to urine and/or breathalyzer tests to monitor compliance. They also must submit to DNA and HIV testing.

Contact with past and potential victims:

Often offenders cannot have any contact, even by mail or through third parties, with past victims or victims’ families. The court may or may not allow an offender to have contact with certain members of his or her own family including his or her own children. Any contact with minors that is permitted by the court is monitored and managed by the CCO while the offender is under supervision.

Relationships:

Offenders must disclose information about their conviction(s) to potential adult sexual partners before beginning sexual relationships. They also must inform their CCO of romantic relationships so they can ensure no potential child victims are accessible. Some offenders may be required by their CCO to disclose their criminal history to their families and friends.

Entertainment:

Offenders cannot patronize any establishment in the sex industry, including topless dancing clubs, sex toy outlets or houses of prostitution.

Employment:

Education, work and community service are encouraged but with review and management of any potential risk. Offenders must have safety plans to avoid reoffending.

Weapons:

Felony offenders may not own, use or possess firearms or ammunition.

Financial obligations:

Offenders may be required to pay restitution, supervision, child support and all other financial obligations

Resources

Policies

Below are Department of Corrections (DOC) policies that apply to the sex offender treatment and assessments.

Laws

Below are state laws (RCWs) that apply to the sex offender treatment and assessments.

Revised Code of Washington (RCW)

Publications

Below are Department of Corrections (DOC) publications that apply to the sex offender treatment and assessments.

Resource Links

Online Publications