Treatment versus punishment of sex offenders

Published by the N.C.S.A.C.

Incarceration, whether in jail or prison, does not rehabilitate sex offenders unless therapeutic services are also included. Punishment alone, especially in a penitentiary environment, often increases the shame and self-hatred that exacerbates many prisoners' assaultive potential. Additionally, incarceration without possibility of treatment discourages self-disclosure and makes reoffending after release more likely.

Punishment administered by the court is not necessarily abusive. But if administered with abuse, it perpetuates the cycle of aggression and interpersonal violence. An offender treated abusively will only be taught further abuse.

Sex offenders must receive a clear message about society's intolerance for assaultive acts. There should be swift and firmly executed penalties and consequences for sexual offenses. But all efforts at imposing justice must be matched with a corresponding effort to provide treatment for sex offenders.

Sex offenders are responsible and accountable for their acts; imprisonment may be an appropriate part of their rehabilitation. Rehabilitation can be effective when grounded in:

1) a thorough assessment for sexual addiction

2) comprehensive humane treatment

3) required counseling and attendance at mutual help and/or therapy groups, which should be continued post-imprisonment.

Cooperation between the judicial system and clinicians as well as education of members of the judicial system regarding appropriate treatment of sex offenders will facilitate this process.

In many instances, society will be protected only when violent and dangerous offenders are incarcerated. Some sex offenders cannot be rehabilitated and for public safety must be kept behind bars. Even the most brutal and habitual sex offenders, however, must be approached with a humane and pragmatic stance which recognizes the practical importance of modeling respectful care. Empathic treatment of offenders represents a professional principle: helping professionals work to eradicate suffering from all people.

NCSAC thanks Geral Blanchard for his contribution to this position paper.