Supervision of Sex Offenders
In Oregon, a sexual crime is defined as any activity involving non-consensual sexual acts, whether by force, coercion, young age, or inability to consent (e.g., unconscious, extreme intoxication, or asleep). Sex offenses include a range of behaviors, from public indecency and prostitution to rape and child molestation. While many may wish to lock up sex offenders for life, with such a wide range of behaviors, it would be impractical, expensive, and inappropriate to incarcerate all sex offenders for life. The question becomes: whom should we lock up and for how long? Because one size does not fit all offenders, the criminal justice system has different ways of responding to different offense behaviors and offenders. This can be seen in differences in the lengths of prison sentences given to individual offenders, as well as lengths of time under community supervision depending on the type of sexual violence perpetrated, the offender’s criminal history, and identified level of risk the offender is believed to pose or, in other words, the likelihood that s/he might engage in future reoffense.
According to national crime statistics, fewer than 15% of sexual crimes against children are committed by strangers, and only approximately 26% of sexual crimes against adult females are committed by individuals unknown to the victim. Indeed, most sexual crimes are committed by people whom the victim knows and, often, by someone the victim trusts. While most sex offenders are male (approximately 95%), females sexually offend too. Sex offenders come from all socio-economic, cultural and ethnic backgrounds. Some offend as juveniles and stop, others continue into adult offending. Among all offenders, both juvenile and adult, most do not recidivate after they have been caught and prosecuted.
Sex offenders are in our communities. According to the Department of Justice Bureau of Statistics, on any given day, the majority of convicted/adjudicated sex offenders, fully 60%, are in the community on parole, post-prison supervision or probation. While it is unsettling to think that your neighbor, co-worker or friend may be a sex offender, it is important to remember that not all sex offenders are the same. Many sex offenders want to change their behavior and with supervision and treatment, many can and do become productive members of society.
When you discover someone you know is a sex offender or someone living near you has sexually offended, the most important thing to do is remain rational and educate yourself. You can learn about the individual and what crime(s) s/he has committed by going to the sex offender registry website. You can also educate yourself about community supervision and, if inclined, contact the person’s parole/probation officer. You will not be given confidential information, but there is nothing that prohibits you from giving information you may have about the offender to his or her parole/probation officer if you think the offender may have violated conditions of supervision. For example, if you observe the individual around children, you can choose to inform the person’s parole/probation officer so that the matter can be addressed by the supervising agency. If inclined, you can learn about sexual offense-specific treatment and sexual offense-specific risk factors. The more you educate yourself, the better prepared you are for identifying high risk behaviors and situations; information such as this can also assist you in protecting yourself and others.
Probation/Parole & Post Prison Supervision
When a person has been charged with a sexual crime, s/he enters the criminal justice system. The person has several options regarding how they can plead to the charge(s). For example, the person may plead “guilty” to the charge and proceed to sentencing; opt to plea bargain to reduce the charge(s) and face sentencing; or plead “not guilty” and go to trial before a judge or jury. When the individual is convicted of the crime, the judge has two options: s/he can place the person on probation (that is, a period of community supervision only) or s/he can send the offender to prison. After serving a prison sentence, the offender is released and placed either on parole or post-prison supervision (depending on when s/he was sentenced). Upon release from a correctional facility, the offender is formally under the jurisdiction of the Board of Parole & Post-Prison Supervision. In short, if someone is on parole or post-prison supervision, it means s/he went to prison and s/he is under the jurisdiction of the Parole Board. If the offender is on probation, s/he has not gone to prison and instead remains under the jurisdiction of the Court (i.e., the judge).
In Oregon, offenders on community supervision are supervised by Parole/Probation Officers (PPO). Offenders receive general conditions of supervision, whether on probation or parole/post prison supervision. Special conditions of supervision can also be added by the judge or the Parole Board, whichever has jurisdiction. Most sex offenders receive special conditions of supervision specific to sex offender issues (e.g., no contact with children, participation in sex offender treatment, polygraph examinations).
Unlike most states, in Oregon, community corrections is primarily managed at the county level, with only a few counties under the jurisdiction of the Department of Corrections. Whether county or state managed, all PPOs have the same authority. PPOs are sworn peace officers; that is, they receive similar training as law enforcement officers. PPOs have arrest authority and many are certified to carry a firearm. And, while police officers arrest for law violations, a PPO may arrest an offender for any violation of a supervision condition in addition to law violations.
In addition to maintaining community safety, PPOs also have the responsibility of assisting offenders in successful reintegration into the community. Of course, in order for the PPO to do this, the offender must demonstrate that s/he is motivated to work toward becoming a responsible member of society. Finally, it is important to remember that sex offenders are people too; some are more willing to work on themselves than others. Invariably, some offenders lacking in sufficient motivation do reoffend. For this reason, a PPOs job is to balance the need for community safety against the needs of the offender, with community safety as the number one priority.
Psychiatric Security Review Board (PSRB)
In some cases, a person who has committed a crime (including a sexual crime) may be evaluated as to whether s/he can be held criminally responsible for the crime. Cases such as this involve individuals with mental illness or intellectual disability, legally referred to as individuals who possess “a mental disease or defect.” When an individual has been found not criminally responsible due to a mental disease or defect, s/he is adjudicated “Guilty Except for Insanity,” as opposed to being convicted of the crime. An individual found Guilty Except for Insanity (GEI) is sentenced to the maximum number of years that the crime carries. Additionally, instead of being under the Department of Corrections, individuals found GEI are under the jurisdiction of the Psychiatric Security Review Board for the duration of their sentence. Once found GEI, most individuals are confined at the Oregon State Hospital for treatment. In the case of individuals found GEI on Measure 11 offenses, the PSRB is the decision-making body that determines when/if the individual is granted a conditional release, usually to a secure residential facility. Discharge and placement decisions pertaining to those individuals found GEI on lesser offenses are determined by Oregon State Hospital administration.
How Supervision Contributes to Community Safety
Criminals are among us; they are our co-workers, acquaintances, friends and family, as well as persons not known to us. Many people violate the law, in many different ways. Perhaps some of us did so today, by speeding to work, for example. Naturally, there are many different types of crimes and people commit crimes for many different reasons. As such, the resulting punishment for criminal activity spans a wide range of consequences. Some punishments involve incarceration, while others do not. Among crimes that are detected and prosecuted, almost all result in some level of supervision for a specified length of time the offender is in the community either after released from custody or in lieu of jail/prison.
The primary objective of community supervision is the maintenance of community safety. Probation allows lower risk offenders to remain in the community, providing them with the opportunity to demonstrate that they have learned from their mistakes with the hope that they will no longer engage in criminal activity. If an offender fails to take advantage of this opportunity and violates his supervision conditions, he can be sanctioned by his PPO and, if necessary, may be removed from the community — in other words, taken into custody. When an offender is released from a period of incarceration, parole/post-prison supervision allows for the opportunity to reintegrate into the community in a structured and contained manner. As with probation, if an offender violates the conditions of his parole/post-prison supervision, he is held accountable for his actions.
PPOs hold offenders accountable once they returned to the community. They also assist offenders as they transition back into the community and provide structure and oversight for offenders once released from incarceration. The PPO is integral in maintaining safety for our communities. Each day PPOs intervene and prevent potential criminal activity, simply through the daily management of their caseloads. And, for those offenders who truly want to change, the PPO provides the resources and structure for these individuals to develop into pro-social and productive members of society.
Treatment of Sex Offenders
The containment model is a collaborative approach involving a treatment team that consists of the probation/parole officer, treatment provider, polygraph examiner, and other involved professionals (as applicable). This model recognizes that the combination of comprehensive sex offense-specific treatment and carefully monitored behavioral supervision can assist many sex offenders toward the development of skills needed to control their behavior. A coordinated system for the management and treatment of sex offenders “contains” the offender, enhances the safety of the community, protects victims, and prevents new crimes from occurring.
Sexual Offense-Specific Treatment
As part of the management team, the sex offense-specific treatment provider offers an additional level of accountability for offenders in the community while providing them with opportunities to learn skills for managing their behavior in pro-social and healthy ways. While it is easy to dismiss all sex offenders as “perverts,” “sick,” and “inhuman,” it may be surprising to realize the extent to which their backgrounds are not unique nor are their vulnerabilities. Sex offenders are a diverse lot and we share many of the same deficits. For example, many of us have had challenging childhoods or problems coping with stress. Many of us have used justifications and faulty reasoning to explain our behavior to ourselves and others. Many of us have done things that were hurtful to someone else. In other words, as human beings, we are all prone to doing bad things. The major difference between “us” and “them” is that most of us do not cross the line by sexually abusing others. For this reason, sex offenders need treatment to gain understanding into their choices and to assist them in making safe choices in the future; choices that will reduce the likelihood of them committing new sexual offenses.
Many sex offenders have the desire to change their behavior. Sex offense-specific treatment, combined with community supervision, provides offenders the opportunity to learn how to manage their behavior and work toward becoming pro-social members of society. It is important to note that sex offense-specific treatment is typically court-mandated and, because it is offense-specific, it differs significantly from traditional mental health treatment in a number of ways. First, the treatment provider is a member of the management team and, as such, has two “clients,” the community and the offender. As with community supervision, community safety and reduction of sexual crimes are top priorities for sex offense-specific treatment providers. Second, the clients, being court-mandated, are involuntary participants. Third, in traditional mental health treatment, the client is generally seeking counseling, and therefore, is likely to be motivated to engage in treatment, whereas mandated clients may or may not be motivated to change their behavior. There are important differences related to confidentiality in sex offense-specific treatment too, meaning that there are limits to the confidentiality an offender can expect when participating in treatment. For example, as a member of the management team, the treatment provider obtains a release of information from the client in order to discuss treatment progress freely with the client’s PPO. Additionally, there is ongoing collaboration with all members of the offender/client’s management team, in order to intervene when a client is being deceptive or attempting to divide the management team. Finally, in traditional mental health treatment, clinicians try to see the world as the client sees it; they tend to take what the client says at face value, and seldom challenge whether the client is telling the truth. In sex offense-specific treatment, clinicians obtain information from reliable collateral sources in addition to what is presented by the offender. The astute clinician pays more attention to behavior than to self-report and vigorously challenges the “excuses” offenders often use for why they committed their crimes.
In Oregon, sex offense-specific treatment is guided by research and is primarily cognitive-behavioral. Cognitive-behavioral treatment (or CBT) is a therapeutic orientation that addresses the relationship between thoughts, feelings and behaviors, and teaches tools to intervene at various points in order to change behavior. In addition to the cognitive-behavioral components of treatment, ongoing specialized sex offender assessment is often used, as well as medication to reduce sexual drive when clinically indicated.
Research has shown that sex offense-specific treatment is effective for many offenders and it is estimated that treatment is responsible for the reduction of future sexual offending by 5 to 10 percent. While this number may not seem large, any reduction in re-offense rates can result in fewer individuals becoming victims, significant cost savings to taxpayers, greater community safety, and overall reduction in harm caused by the offender.
The polygraph examination, frequently called the “lie detector test,” records certain physiological changes (i.e., heart rate, blood pressure, respiration) in an individual undergoing questioning in order to determine whether the person is responding truthfully or is deceptive. Polygraph testing is based upon a scientific theory that adheres to the idea that any conscious effort at deception by a rational individual causes involuntary and uncontrollable physiological responses. The most commonly used technique for polygraph testing is the control/comparison question test. During the examination, control questions are asked and a physiological baseline is established. Relevant questions, which address topics like the details of the offense or compliance with supervision conditions, are then asked and the physiological response is compared to the established physiological baseline. Depending on the physiological responses of the individual, truthful, deceptive, or inconclusive results can occur.
There are three types of polygraph examinations used with sex offenders: the “specific issue” polygraph, the “full sexual history disclosure” polygraph and the “maintenance-compliance” polygraph. The “specific issue” polygraph addresses a single issue, such as whether someone committed a specific crime or engaged in a specific behavior. The “full sexual history disclosure” polygraph addresses an offender’s entire sexual history and assesses whether they have been honest about all victims. The “maintenance-compliance” polygraph addresses an offender’s compliance with supervision/treatment conditions in the community.
In Oregon, polygraph examinations are a standard requirement for sex offenders on probation or parole/post-prison supervision. While many argue about the validity of the polygraph, there is a substantial body of research that indicates that polygraph examinations are a valuable tool in the treatment and management of sex offenders. For example, research has shown that when faced with the prospect of taking a polygraph, many sex offenders disclosed additional victims and/or varying deviant behaviors than was previously known. Polygraphy is not admissible as evidence in court proceedings in Oregon or at the Federal level.
How Treatment Contributes to Community Safety
The main goal of sex offense-specific treatment is to obtain and maintain community safety. It has been shown to be an effective tool in preventing future victimization, is supported by research, reduces the likelihood offender’s will re-offend, and is financially beneficial. Without specialized community-based treatment, there would be no way to provide the opportunity or structured environment for offenders to change their behavior once returned to the community. While many may feel sex offenders do not deserve the opportunity to improve themselves, without treatment, sex offenders often continue their abusive behaviors. As such, the treatment provider can be an invaluable and essential part of maintaining community safety. Each day treatment providers help hold offenders accountable, identify high-risk behaviors and assist offenders with behavioral change in order to curb sexual abuse. They also function as additional eyes and ears, relaying back to the PPO vital information that may be used to better manage the offender in the community. As a team, sex offense-specific treatment providers and PPO’s work together to help offenders keep from reoffending. Most importantly, they do their difficult jobs because they are committed to preventing sexual abuse from occurring in our communities by placing the responsibility for ending sexual violence squarely on the shoulders of the offender.