Specialized psychological offense treatments linked to reductions in recidivism

A first-of-its-kind study has found that specialized psychological programs for sexual and domestic violence offenders have led to major reductions in reoffending but best results are achieved with consistent input from a qualified psychologist.

For the study, which was led by Professor Theresa Gannon at the University of Kent, a team of psychologists from the UK and Canada reviewed 70 previous studies and 55,000 individual offenders from five countries (UK, Canada, USA, Australia, New Zealand) to examine whether specialized psychological offense treatments were associated with reductions in recidivism.

Three specialized treatments were examined: sexual offense, domestic violence and general violence programs, with the first two comprising the majority of specialized psychological programs offered in correctional and community settings.

The study showed that, across all programs, offense specific reoffending was 13.4% for treated individuals and 19.4% for untreated comparisons over an average follow up of 66?months. Relative reductions in offense specific reoffending were 32.6% for sexual offense programs, 36% for domestic violence programs, and 24.3% for general violence programs. All programs were also associated with significant reductions in non-offense specific reoffending.

However, overall, treatment effectiveness appeared improved when programs received consistent hands-on input from a qualified registered psychologist and facilitating staff were provided with clinical supervision. For sexual offenders, specific group-based treatment, rather than mixed group and individual treatment, produced the greatest reductions in sexual reoffending as did treatment that focussed specifically on reducing inappropriate sexual arousal. All sexual offense treatment in these studies was Cognitive Behavioural Therapy.

Amongst its recommendations, the study suggests that policy makers and offender program providers might optimize programs outcomes by providing qualified psychologists who are consistently present in hands-on treatment. It also suggests that program providers might also want to consider methods for tightly controlling program implementation given that the researchers found single site treatments seemed to fare better than multisite treatments.

Professor Gannon, a chartered forensic psychologist and Director of Kent's Centre of Research and Education in Forensic Psychology:

The results of this study are good news. They suggest that treatment can be effective; particularly if care and attention is paid to who delivers the treatment as well as how treatment is implemented."

Journal reference:

Gannon, A T. et al. (2019) Does specialized psychological treatment for offending reduce recidivism? A meta-analysis examining staff and program variables as predictors of treatment effectiveness.Clinical Psychology Review. doi.org/10.1016/j.cpr.2019.101752


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