In the wake of the recently completed legislative session in Colorado’s General Assembly, I have lingering concerns regarding House Bill 1320, a piece of “sunset” legislation extending the Colorado Sex Offender Management Board which was passed and sent to the governor.
Initially the bill would have reformed the board, but that debate has essentially been tabled by the lawmakers for two more years. This was unfortunate.
During the legislative session, I noticed a number of opinion pieces published in the weeks before the end of this session referring to HB 1320 as originally written as an attempt by some to weaken Colorado’s laws protecting us from sexual predators, notably a May 30 piece in The Colorado Sun by Sterling Harris, Jessica Dotter, and Tom Raynes. In-person testimony concerning this bill in the House Judiciary Committee by prosecutors and victim’s advocates echoed similar assertions.
As a board-certified sex therapist and clinical sexologist, I have worked for many years to help heal the psychological and emotional wounds of survivors of horrendous sex crimes, as well as treating individuals accused of such behaviors. I’m also a professor of psychology, human services and criminal justice at Colorado Technical University. I hold a Doctor of Management degree in criminal justice, I’m a subject matter expert on sexually based offenses, and I created an advanced undergraduate course, Sex Crimes: Behavior and Consequences – one of the first of its kind in the U.S.
I recently completed a three-year doctoral-level study on the Colorado Sex Offender Management Board (SOMB), focused on its statutory mandate to employ evidence-based practice (EBP) in the mandatory mental and behavioral treatment of those convicted of sexually-based offenses.
EBP is considered the standard of care by the American Psychological Association, American Psychiatric Association, the National Association of Social Workers, and other such authoritative agencies, and it is meant to support the very best mental health treatment possible. EBP is a protocol requiring a combination of professional expertise, scientific evidence supporting the methodology, and the clients’ individual qualities.
When they created the SOMB in 1992, Colorado lawmakers designated EBP as the statutory standard for treatment programs used with those convicted of sexually-based offenses.
READ: Colorado Sun opinion columnists.
Yet, as I argued in my recent study, the SOMB has never employed evidence-based practice in offender treatment since its inception in 1992. In fact, there are numerous discrepancies between SOMB policies and the professional standards of mental/behavioral health insofar as EBP is concerned.
In an extensive inquiry last July, the Office of the State Auditor cited the SOMB for a lack of scientific evidence backing up its treatment guidelines, and they raised serious questions about SOMB treatment providers’ qualifications.
The study that I conducted indicates that many SOMB policies are antithetical to EBP, including a “one size fits all” approach that negatively impacts the professional expertise of the treatment providers, as well as the individuality of those under treatment.
As an expert in both criminal justice matters in general and sexually-based offenses in particular, I am concerned about what appears to be a widespread misunderstanding of how successful mental health treatment works as performed by knowledgeable providers, and the misuse of such treatment within the correctional context.
To be clear: Yes, those who have been convicted of sexually-based offenses need to face criminal penalties and consequences. However, if they are to have a chance at rehabilitation, including the absence of additional criminal behaviors, and a chance at becoming productive participants in society, then EBP must be the foundational basis for their treatment plans, as determined and developed by professional experts in the field of mental health, not by probation personnel, law firms, and victims’ advocates.
For example, it is widely known — and supported by the weight of research literature — that the “therapeutic relationship” between a counselor and client is the single most important element of successful mental health treatment, regardless of methodology.
And yet, opponents of the recently discussed changes to the SOMB mandates believe that clients’ (convicted offenders) preferences as to treatment providers would somehow weaken the outcomes of the treatment programs. That’s exactly the opposite of what both the American Psychological Association and American Psychiatric Association maintain as official canon, which is that the rapport between the client and counselor is crucial to successful outcomes. It makes no sense to weaken that rapport and is directly counter to EBP.
If we’re going to insist on a statutory requirement for mental/behavioral treatment programs for those who have been convicted of sexually-based offenses, what sense does it make to pervert and alter those treatment programs to the point where they become useless and ineffective?
Either do away with them altogether and admit that the aim is punishment and retribution, period, or allow the professional counselors to practice EBP, as required by the statutes, and as practiced in the real world.
Dr. Gene I. Katz is an associate professor in the College of Security Studies at Colorado Technical University.
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