Friday, October 15, 2010

Exciting new sex offender treatment model

Today, dear readers, is an exciting day. It marks the official release of a groundbreaking new book on sex offender treatment, one that may signal a pivotal turning point away from punitive practices toward a recognition of offenders' essential human dignity and the universality of crime desistance.

Scholars D. Richard Laws and Tony Ward have taken on a huge task in Desistance from Sex Offending: Alternatives to Throwing Away the Keys. They hope to bring mainstream criminological theories about crime desistance to an insular, risk-obsessed fringe of forensic psychology that has remained remarkably uninterested in the fact that offenders desist from crime, or the process through which that occurs.

Desistance provides a superb, highly readable overview of the criminological literature on desistance, the age-crime curve, and offender reintegration research, focusing heavily on the seminal works of Sampson and Laub and Shadd Maruna. The authors propose the Good Lives Model as a theory that can bridge the looming chasm between desistance theory and forensic psychology practice with sex offenders.

The voices of dissent against the dominant, pathologizing discourse of deviance are growing louder. The publication of this trailblazing book is yet another in a series of signals that the reign of penal harm may be losing steam, creating opportunities for implementing progressive reforms.

Desistance is essential reading for clinicians, researchers, academicians, attorneys, and anyone interested in the application of contemporary social science theory on desistance to sex offender rehabilitation.

The timing is propitious, coinciding as it does with next week's annual conference of the Association for the Treatment of Sexual Abusers (ATSA) in Phoenix, Arizona. At least one conference seminar, by Pamela Yates, Ph.D., will focus on applying the Good Lives Model to sex offender treatment. If you are attending the conference, buy this book early before it sells out.

We can only hope that the spirit of reform embodied in Desistance truly catches on, rather than being coopted by the entrenched forces of risk management.

NOTE: I am writing more detailed and formal reviews of Desistance for publication, and will link to those as soon as they are available. Also see my online review at Amazon (and please, as always, remember to click on “yes” if you like the review).

16 comments:

  1. Thank you for this. So many are waiting and hoping that these laws change and get the majority off the shaming public registry who are not dangerous, esp. not to pre-pubescent children.
    It feels like we're living in the 1800's if you know anyone on the lifetime registry and all the extremes of punishment it is imposing on people's lives.

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  2. I've just done a quick scan for the "Good Lives Model" in Google Scholar and noticed that a sizable fraction of the items are associated with sexual offences. How applicable is the GLM, would you say, to working with people who have transgressed in other ways?

    Thanks for an interesting posting.

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  3. Hitler did the same to the Jews. They were not permitted to carry binoculars, participate in sports, go to the theater, museums, the shops or parks. It sounds like the Third Reich is alive and well here in the United States.

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  4. Great to read your hot off the press review. Desistance is what has been missing from the risk literature for sometime.

    This book will be essential reading for any forensic psychologist.

    I look forward to reading your more detailed review.

    Your blog always keeps us on the cutting edge and I thank you for the work you put in.

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  5. Thanks, everyone.

    Bill, good question: GLM was not developed with sex offenders in mind, so it is in no way limited to work with sex offenders. Several rehabilitation programs for other types of offenders currently use it as a theoretical model. The idea here is that there is nothing unique or special about sex offenders, so general theories of criminal desistance and rehabilitation are as applicable to them as to any other type of criminals. The book makes clear that nothing about the model limits it to a specific type of offender.

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  6. Thanks for clarifying this, Karen. As you might expect in career and employment advisory services we see few people who would tell us that they have committed sex offences but some of us specialise in working with former offenders without knowing what the offences were. I'm looking forward to reading more.

    Thanks again.

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  7. Thank you for this post. It is nice to see the occasional sign that there is a little bit of sanity in the world, even in a field as full of madness as psychology.

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  8. Less than 1 percent (248,000 divided by 22,879,700) of all crimes are rape/sex says the authors. And only 11 % of the 1% are mandated to treatment.

    So 90 percent of crimes associated with rape/sex do not get treatment. So? Seems like the recidivism figures are such that certain crimes are not readily treated.

    What is a human being? According to the book, "all human beings are viewed as agents who act in pursuit of valued goods in ways they believe likely to achieve them...p. 233

    My question: An agent of what or who? That definition seems too rational and sounds similiar to economic man definitions.

    More definition of what a human is by the authors:

    "Human beings are practical decision makers ... physically embodied organisms who formulate plans and intentionally modify themselves and their enviorment to increase their chance of achieving their goals..."

    Maybe that is what the authors wants sexual offenders to become but that's a narrow, limited definition for human beings in general...

    A review of this book needs to examine the ethical underminings ... the ethical and moral assumptions it makes ...for example, the authors assume that all persons have equal moral status and have certain "entitlements" (sounds like another government entitlement program?).

    The Good Life model "helps [sexual offenders] acquire core competencies in valued activiites such as being intimate, managing stress..."

    I probalby would download this book on my kindle for $10 -- but not sure about spending $36. on it.

    What grabbed you about this book? Is it simply that finally at lesat some sexual offenders can go through a treatment program?

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  9. Cameron, Thanks for your comment.

    It's exciting that two prominent scholars in the sex offender field are trying to bridge the gap between forensic psychology and criminology, and are applying the seminal desistance research (by Sampson and Laub and Shadd Maruna) to sex offenders. Forensic psychology has largely ignored desistance as a systematic phenomenon. The sex offender industry is pretty disconnected from broader social science scholarship, creating a myopic ideology of exceptionalism in which criminals who have been convicted of sex offenses are seen as much more different from others than the evidence warrants.

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  10. I just got back from a meeting with both our city and county sex offender registration staff regarding the false and misleading and wrong information regarding sex offenders, being there seems to be a great deal of propaganda regarding sex offenders being made so often.
    The staff of Both our agencys agreed with 100 percent of what I brought to their attention regarding all the true and real information as per all the false information that has been told and making the general poulation to believe as being true.
    I was very surprised that I was told that they have been telling the same information themselvs to both local and state law makers and for whatever reason they said they can not get them to listen to them.
    Whats really going on here? ( This same situation is happening throughout the country)

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  11. Karen Hi,

    I wonder if you could address this question. I was discussing the book, desistance theory and GLM with a colleague of mine. She dismissed GLM, this was her response

    ...." Most people are really resistant to the good lives model - mainly because we can't really see much difference from good lives to motivational interviewing which is far more widely accepted and has considerable evidence to back it up..."

    I would really be interested to hear what your response to that would be.

    Thanks in advance

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  12. Good question, FpsY. Proponents do not see GLM as a technique to replace others. They say it as an overarching THEORY of change that addresses not just deficits and risk factors but also STRENGTHS. It also has a human rights perspective, so it looks not just at whether something "works," but whether it is just. Laws and Ward say techniques such as motivational interviewing can easily fit within a GLM framework.

    In one of my longer, more formal reviews of the book, I discuss a related concern of mine: That programs may claim to adopt (i.e., give lip-service to) the Good Lives perspective, without fully embracing its philosophy, thereby coopting it. I'll let readers know when that is available.

    Thanks for all your comments. I appreciate them.

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  13. Hi to Bill Bell- the GLM is applicable to all offenders. In Australia I and my colleagues have developed a statewide rehabilitation framework across a correctional system, and now I manage a prison that applies it to drug-related offenders. As Karen said, it is a framework that allows humane techniques to be developed that ENGAGE people to change; risk management strategies don't do that.

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  14. I am on my way to buy the book. Thanks

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  15. Presumably the book reinforces strategies that have been used since at least the early 1990's but ignored. I'm thinking of the work of the late James Olsen at the University of Maryland. Recidivism in his program was exceptionally low.

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  16. Hi to Astrid,

    Excellent news from Australia! I appreciate your taking the time to show even wider applicability. Of course we see people hampered by problems involving drugs.

    Thank you.

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