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Long-term Impact Evaluation of Specialized Sex Offender Probation Programs In Lake, DuPage and Winnebago Counties

This Executive Summary reports on a study of the long-term impact of specialized sex offender probation programs in DuPage, Lake and Winnebago Counties. A previous study reported on the implementation and short-term impact of these three programs (Seng et al. 2000). The current study explores the impact of these programs comparing recidivism and treatment failure of sex offenders who participated in the specialized sex offender probation program (the grant sample) to recidivism and treatment failure of sex offenders on probation who were not part of the specialized program (the control sample). We obtained information about recidivism from Illinois State Police Rap Sheets supplemented with information from FBI criminal histories, violation of probation petitions, polygraph tests, and therapists’ bi-monthly treatment reports. Recidivism was defined as new arrests or self-reports of new offenses after the time that they were arrested for the offense that placed them on probation. Sexual recidivism was defined as any new sex crime except arrests for failure to register as a sex offender were not included. Violent recidivism was defined as any new violent or sex crime. General recidivism was defined as a new crime of any type, including misdemeanors such as driving while intoxicated, but other traffic offenses were not included.

The specialized programs, especially Lake County, increased its field surveillance and visits to sex offenders’ homes. This increased surveillance can have two opposing effects. First, increased surveillance may allow probation officers to detect a greater percentage of new crimes that sex offenders commit. For example, probation officers may discover child pornography on a sex offender’s home computer or may see a sex offender expose himself to a stranger during field surveillance. The higher detection hypothesis predicts that the specialized program will have a higher rate of sexual, violent, and general recidivism than the standard program. By contrast, the second way that increased surveillance may affect sex offenders is to deter them from committing additional crimes due to the fear of being caught and punishment. The deterrence hypothesis predicts that the specialized program will have a lower rate of sexual, violent, and general recidivism than the standard program. These two opposing effects can result in the specialized and standard probation programs having similar recidivism rates. Even if the two programs have identical recidivism rates, this finding does not mean that the specialized program had no impact because the higher detection effect can mask the deterrence effect. The evaluators, thus, are presented with a conundrum.

To overcome this conundrum, the evaluators used a deterrence conceptual framework to make predictions about which groups of sex offenders would be deterred or change from the intensive supervision of the specialized programs. Sex offenders can be deterred if they make a rational calculation of the cost (such as a new arrest) and benefits of committing a new crime before they commit the crime. We predicted that mentally ill sex offenders, psychopathic deviants, and sex offenders with sadistic or chronic aggression problems were not rational and thus should show higher rates of recidivism in the specialized program than in the standard program, which supports the higher detection hypothesis. We predicted that sex offenders interested in hands-off sexual offending often consider the cost and benefits of committing a sex crime before they commit the crime and should be deterred by the increased surveillance, which supports the deterrence hypothesis. Sex offenders that have already served a term of probation also may be deterred by the increased supervision because they realize that the consequences will be more severe if they are caught committing another crime. Sex offenders that have served a prior probation sentence may realize the severe consequence if they commit additional crimes and those on specialized probation may perceive a higher likelihood of getting caught if they commit a new offense; thus, the specialized program should deter sex offenders that have served prior probation and produce lower sexual, violent, and general recidivism rates than the standard program.

Our findings from the implementation study were that each county had successfully implemented a specialized sex offender probation program but in ways unique to each county. Our findings from this long-term impact study mirror this diversity. In general we found that the specialized sex offender program in each county had a positive impact on recidivism for certain groups of sex offenders, and were able to detect higher rates of recidivism for groups of offenders that do not make decisions in a rational manner (e.g., mentally ill offenders). The counties differed in what groups of offenders were affected by the increased surveillance and other conditions of the specialized programs.

This Executive Summary presents a comparison of the standard and specialized sex offender program and major findings for each county. We then discuss the overall implications of the study in general and make final recommendations about risk assessment instruments for child molesters. Our analyses focused on examining recidivism and treatment performances within each county with specific attention to differences between the control and grant samples. An additional and important focus was identifying groups of offenders in the total sample in each county who were at high risk of recidivism and treatment failure.

For the remainder of the study: by Loretta J. Stalans, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Criminal Justice, Loyola University and Magnus Seng, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Criminal Justice, Loyola University and Paul R. Yarnold, Ph.D., Research Professor of Medicine, Section of Emergency Medicine, Northwestern University Medical School

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