An Outcome Evaluation of the Brunswick Correctional Center Sex Offender Residential Treatment (SORT) Program

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There is much disagreement among clinicians, politicians, the general public, and researchers about how best to manage sex offenders. Many states have taken punitive approaches, enacting sex-offender registration and civil commitment statutes. Mental health professionals discourage these strategies and call for more treatment. The Virginia Department of Corrections (DOC) provided prison-based, cognitive-behavioral treatment within a relapse prevention framework to incarcerated sex offenders through the Sex Offender Residential Treatment (SORT) program. The purpose of the current study was to examine the effectiveness of this program to reduce recidivism. Specifically, the study assessed whether participation in SORT (both treatment as assigned and treatment completion) reduced the likelihood of re-offending after release from incarceration. In addition, the study aimed to distinguish whether treatment had differential effects for two types of sex offenders - rapists and child molesters.

This study compared a group of 97 male inmates who received sex offender treatment through DOC to a comparison group of 64 inmates who did not receive treatment. All subjects were released from prison during the period February 2001 through April 2004. The evaluation utilized existing data maintained by DOC. From this database, a variety of predictors of sex offender recidivism were measured, including the Static-99 to account for between-group differences in recidivism risk. Official reports of any new arrests and probation violations for a minimum of a 12-month follow-up period were used to measure recidivism. There was no indication that sex offender treatment decreased the probability of recidivism. Specifically, treatment participants had a greater prevalence of re-arrests for sex offenses, non-sex offenses, and a composite measure for any new offense, and a lower prevalence of probation violations, than controls. In the multivariate equations, treatment significantly reduced the likelihood of being violated on supervision during the follow-up period but this was only applicable to child molesters. Treatment completion did not substantially alter these findings. Rapists were significantly less likely to re-offend sexually than child molesters, whereas they were significantly more likely than child molesters to be re-arrested for a new non-sex crime.

Several aspects related to the type of inmates sampled, the institutional program itself, and the community supervision component were discussed as potential explanations for the null finding that sex offender treatment was generally ineffective at reducing recidivism. This research suggested there are substantial differences in the criminogenic needs and responsivity of rapists and child molesters; however, current treatment for sex offenders was developed primarily for the latter and is inadequate to treat and manage primary rapists. Limitations of the research were discussed, including the small sample size and the short follow-up period. It was noted that correctional administrators should incorporate an evaluation design into the planning phase of treatment programs so that the processes of program implementation and operation can be monitored rigorously and appropriate data can be gathered consistently to establish program efficacy. Additionally, data on dynamic risk factors and community supervision processes should be collected to obtain a more accurate account of recidivism and the factors associated with these outcomes.