Sex Offender Treatment in Prison

Research shows that fewer than 7 percent of the sex offenders completing the DOC’s Sexual Offender Treatment Program at the Monroe Correctional Complex return to prison.

Sex Offender treatment is part of the comprehensive effort to increase community safety. DOC believes sex offender treatment is a key component of its Reentry Initiative, which is designed to help offenders begin to receive the treatments, education and job training they need in prison so that they return to society making choices that will keep them out of prison.

An estimated 95 percent of the sex offenders sentenced to prison eventually return to the community.

That makes the Twin Rivers Sex Offender Treatment Program for men at the Monroe Correctional Complex and a similar program at the Washington Correction Center for Women in Gig Harbor valuable tools in the struggle to help them become law-abiding citizens.

DOC knows treatment is not a cure for sexual deviancy. Therefore, the Monroe program’s three main goals are:

  • Helping offenders learn to reduce and manage risk
  • Providing information to help the department and its community partners monitor and manage offenders more effectively
  • Evaluating and improving treatment

Sex offending usually is a learned behavior, therefore a key pillar of the treatment is that offenders can learn to avoid sexual aggression as well as the skills they need to live responsibly in the community. Treatment begins with comprehensive assessments that include psychological tests, clinical interviews and other techniques designed to define treatment goals and strategies for each offender. Counselors study what has sparked past offenses and then help to define the attitudes, thinking and behavior skills that are needed to reduce the likelihood of re-offending.

Program participants receive individual and group therapy. Group sessions generally have 12 to 14 members and meet from six to 10 hours per day.

Group therapy’s goals are to help offenders:

  • Take responsibility for assaultive behavior
  • Learn how to understand their patterns (cycles) of criminal behavior
  • Learn relapse prevention and other management skills to reduce risk of reoffense
  • Learn the attitudes, thinking skills and behaviors needed to safely reside in the community
  • Prepare to learn new skills and knowledge

Additional classes and sessions address sexual deviancy, life skills and other topics.

Offenders vary widely in their motivation and commitment to change. Treatment is likely to be successful to the extent that the offender is able to:

  • Recognize and understand the factors that contributed to his or her offense(s).
  • Monitor themselves and their environment to detect changes indicating that their risk to reoffend is increasing.
  • Develop the skills necessary to intervene, manage and reduce risky behavior
  • Remain willing and able to apply monitoring and intervention skills in a timely and effective manner, including seeking outside assistance when necessary.

Offenders admitted to the sex offender treatment programs must meet the following criteria, although some exceptions are allowed on a case-by-case basis:

  • The offender must have been convicted of a sex offense for his or her current or a previous term of incarceration
  • He or she must be eligible for release at some future date
  • He or she must acknowledge having committed at least one sex offense and believe treatment may reduce the risk of re-offending
  • He or she must volunteer for the treatment and agree to follow its rules and expectations

Program administrators may make exceptions to those rules for offenders who report committing sex crimes that did not lead to charges, those who believe they might commit sex crimes upon their release or for those whose crimes were sexually motivated, but they were actually convicted of a non-sex offense such as Burglary or Robbery.

Treatment priority is given to the highest risk offenders. But lower risk offenders may be admitted for such factors as the offender:

  • Used a high level of violence when committing his or her crime
  • Likely committed more offenses than his or her official record shows
  • Expresses an intention to commit future sex offenses
  • Engages in sexually aggressive behavior in prison
  • Experiences thoughts and fantasies related to sexually abusive behavior and is bothered by them

Offenders can be terminated from treatment for assaults and fighting, sexual behavior, violating confidentiality of others in the program, failing to make progress in treatment or being placed in a high security category such as maximum.

Treatment has been a part of DOC’s comprehensive program to protect the public since 1989. The Twin Rivers treatment program at the Monroe Correctional Complex is one of the largest such programs in the country. Its capacity is 200 offenders at a time, although the 2007-09 biennial budget provided $4.9 million to treat 400 offenders at a time. DOC also plans to build a 200-bed treatment center for sex offenders who are already incarcerated at the Airway Heights Corrections Center near Spokane.

All adult male sex offenders in DOC prisons may volunteer for the program. Because of the lengthy waiting list, most offenders enter treatment only when they are within 18 months of release. Offenders are expected to continue receiving treatment after leaving prison for up to three years through aftercare programs available throughout the state.

Many of the sex offenders don’t volunteer to participate in treatment, although DOC has hired more sex offender experts and is providing more information about the program to offenders in an effort to increase participation.

The Washington Corrections Center for Women in Gig Harbor offers similar treatment for approximately 10 of the 25 female sex offenders incarcerated there.