Challenges to Reintegrating Sex Offenders

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19/03/19 Criminology Reference this

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A consideration in to the policy and practicalities of reintegrating Sex offenders.

Despite the fact that sex offenders have lower re-offending rates compared to any other type of offenders, the publics’ fear of sex offenders is still quite high (Harris and Hanson, 2004 cited in Fox, 2017). However more recently various legislative measures have been placed in especially both the US and UK which are believed to reduce the chances of re-offending. An example to illustrate this is in the US where restrictions are set on residency, community and sex offender registries have been put in place and to a huge extent this has increased public support (Leverson, Brannon, Fortney and Baker, 2007). Whereas in the UK this is similarly the case with sex offenders. By placing sex offenders on registries also means that they are at an increased risk of vigilante attacks. In the case of sex offenders, vigilantism can take place in the form of social exclusion or retribution, and so by having registration/ community notification of sex offenders it can be argued that public stigmatisation, social isolation is increased when names and addresses of sex offenders are released within the community. Provided the environment of supervised circumstances in which sex offenders are subject to upon their release in to the community is a topical discussion, but also a huge concern for policy makers and more importantly professionals working with sex offenders. It can strongly be argued that the punitive measures which have been placed for sex offenders have increased over the last decade or so (Motivans and Kyckelham, 2007) and the registration and community notification of sex offenders within the US and UK clearly demonstrates this. Haney (2002) clarifies that such measures can have a detrimental impact on a sex offenders’ capability in transitioning back in to a community in terms of carrying on with relationships whether it be a family or an employment based one. On the other hand, the integral support that could perhaps contribute towards reducing the risk of re-offending in sex offenders seems unlikely, nor could they be easily established. Although an attempt in doing so was established- an integration model which helped address the support and accountability of sex offenders. This is known as the CoSA (Circle of Support and Accountability) model, aiding to create a support community for high risk sex offenders serving longer sentences in Canada (Fox, 2017). This was further developed to in order to amplify community safety and provide some form of assurance to the public in fear (Hannam and Petrunik, 2007). This model has been successful within both the US and UK.  During the course of this essay a discussion will be made addressing the social exclusion sex offenders may face upon re-integration and this can be from anything as big as policies which may hinder their re-integration process, to anything as simple as the contradictive society which vilifies sex offenders upon re-integration, yet the same society which expects sex offenders to reform also. Based on the above it will be concluded that as a society we are moving towards a risk based approach in the punishment of sex offenders. However in saying so there is also the assumption that even with practise, past behaviour is used a key focus when addressing sex offenders, perhaps emphasis should be placed on the present progressing towards the future because this raises all sorts of arising questions in to how can sex offenders be expected to reintegrate in to a society which demands reform yet, at the same time holds their past behaviour against them? Unfortunately, it would appear that it is this standpoint on sex offenders which can act as hindrance to their re-integration process.          

The CoSA model was developed when it was found that it had an enormous impact on recidivism (Wilson, Pichea and Prinzo, 2005). Since then the CoSA model has been established in several countries (Rensburg, 2012) e.g. the US although this program was originally set out in Canada, the two between them have different environments because it is believed that the US submits more to public pressure in order to adopt restrictive policies (Petrunik and Deutschmann, 2008). Nevertheless the program is deemed to provide support and accountability compared to restricted supervision which focuses on compliance and restrictions (accountability in this case). Alternatively, it is alleged that CoSA does enforce accountability, but within a supportive relationship (Fox, 2016; Hannem, 2013). Based on this it can be depicted that the strength with this reintegration model is found within the relationships that are built between sex offenders and members at the program. Fox (2010) points out that it is within such normative relationship a ‘moral authority’ is established.  On the other hand, a limitation is found with this program because of the way they are carried out in different places. This can be slightly problematic especially where some places may not have circles of support for sex offenders. For instance, one place may very well only use the circles of support for sex offenders who are serving longer sentences, and so this can be seen as defeating the object since the CoSA program was initially set up to support all sex offenders regardless of the severity in the punishment being served. 

The challenges of reintegrating sex offenders are much more common as we know, infact many have criticised the view of sex offenders being released in to the community without supervision or support in the first place. This is possibly down two colliding factors; political power and the increase in public pressure from victims’ movements and the general concerned public in the decline of the rehabilitation aspect of punishment in relation to sex offenders.  Fox (2017) highlights that a paradigm has come into sight which focuses on the protection for the community from such vilified offenders. Based on this viewpoint it is believed that measures taken including community protection were formed especially and starting with the US however, at the same time it can be pointed out that this can affect a sex offenders’ capability in being able to reintegrate back in to the community. The most punitive measures, again, is perhaps the sex offender registries and community notification policies. It is assumed that in a country where the sex offender registration is still a topical matter of debate it still has arguably increasing numbers of sex offenders. Public fear would significantly hinder community integration, but the punitive measures (as previously mentioned) which restrict sex offenders do not appear to make reintegration any simpler, rather it has the opposite, detrimental effect on the reintegration of sex offenders.  

Over the last decade, literature on desistance from crime has flourished. So far research on desistance has focused on external factors of offenders for example, marriage and employment (Sampson and Laub, 1993) or the internal motivators for instance, the narrative identity change that takes place via means or through forms of encouragement (Maruna, 2001; Mc Neil, 2006). Therefore it would appear that literature on desistance is centred on factors which contribute towards the time periods of desistance in crime. In essence, a new identity is established (Farrall and Calverly, 2006). It has been implied that desistance is a result of an opportunity to establish a new narrative in which is non-criminal.  Mc Neil (2010) suggests that as well as primary desistance, territory desistance is the enduring type to come from a sense of belonging. In the case of sex offenders however, what is made unclear is how they can encourage a sense of belonging where requirements are to be carried out under supervision/ registries.        

In respect of sex offenders, the challenges of reintegration back in to community life are much larger because of the public attitudes on sex offenders and the restrictive supervision sex offenders have to experience which can further isolate them. Having said that, there are treatment programmes which can promote desistance however it appears that they fail to address the sense of belonging within the community. This shows that the reintegration process and not the treatment process is problematic when addressing the needs of sex offenders. There is the implication that there is a need for a reintegration design which will be able to address the needs of sex offenders because there support for sex offenders is lacking. It can be pointed out that the CoSA model has been able to assist sex offenders towards territory desistance by structuring constant social support and sense of belonging found within the community.  Nevertheless Ward and Brown (2004) suggest that a shift is needed away from a risk avoidance approach to instead a positive assistance to individual needs, or in other words, a humanistic approach. This therefore leads to the Good Lives Model (Ward and Gannon, 2006) which would recognise such individualistic needs and more importantly, aims to focus on the strengths of the sex offender and by doing so essentially improves wellbeing. Not only this, but a provision of a non-judgmental social support service would be provided to sex offenders (Fox, 2017) and this in all would assist the intangible outcomes sex offenders require. 

During the course of this discussion it has been pointed out that although sex offenders do have lower re-offending rates compared to any other offenders, public fear of sex offenders still is quite high (Harris and Hanson, 2004 cited in Fox, 2017). It is this public fear of sex offenders which feeds in to various legislative measures taking place, both within the US and UK as much as they are believed to reduce the likelihood of re-offending. Restrictions sex offenders have been placed on e.g. community and sex offender registries have gained much of public support (Leverson, Brannon, Fortney and Baker, 2007). By obliging sex offenders on registries means that they are at an increased risk of vigilantism and this is believed to have a huge impact on the reintegration of sex offenders because of the social exclusion or retribution that occurs, and so by having registration/ community notification of sex offenders it is argued that public stigmatisation, social isolation is amplified. Haney (2002) backs this up in entailing that measures have a detrimental impact on a sex offenders’ capability in transitioning back in to a community in terms of carrying on with relationships whether it be a family or an employment based one. It is seen that there is integral support that could perhaps contribute towards reducing the risk of re-offending in sex offenders however this seems unlikely. It has been proven that that the social exclusion sex offenders face upon re-integration from anything as big as policies which appears to hinder their re-integration process, to anything as simple as the contradictive society which has vilified sex offenders during the course of the re-integration process, yet this is the same society which expects sex offenders to reform. This further implies that as society we are moving towards a risk based approach in the punishment of sex offenders and raises one particular question; how can sex offenders be expected to reintegrate in to a society which demands reform, yet at the same time holds their past behaviour against them? As unfortunate as this may seem it would come into sight that it is this standpoint on sex offenders which has and still continues to serve as a hindrance to their re-integration process.          

References

Levenson, J. S., Brannon, Y. N., Fortney, T., & Baker, J. (2007). Public perceptions about sex offenders and community protection policies. Analyses of Social Issues and Public Policy.7.137-161. doi:10.1111/j.1530-2415.2007.00119.

Maruna, S. (2001). Making good: How ex-convicts reform and rebuild their lives. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

McNeill, F. (2006). A desistance paradigm for offender management. Criminology and Criminal Justice, 6, 39-62.

Motivans, M., & Kyckelhahn, T. (2007). Federal prosecution of child sex exploitation offenders, 2006. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice Statistics.

McNeill, F., & Weaver, B. (2010). Changing lives? Desistance research and offender management.Glasgow: Scottish

Hannem, S. (2013). Experiences in reconciling risk management and restorative justice: How Circles of Support and Accountability work restoratively in the risk society. International Journal of Offender Therapy and Comparative Criminology, 57, 269-288.

Haney, C. (2002, January). The psychological impact of incarceration: Implications for postprison adjustment. Working papers presented at the conference “From Prison to Home: The Effect of Incarceration and Reentry on Children, Families, and Communities,” U.S. Agency on Health and Human Services, Washington, DC.

Farrall, S., & Calverley, A. (2006). Understanding desistance from crime: Theoretical directions in resettlement and rehabilitation. Berkshire, UK: Open University Press.

Fox, K. (2010). Second chances: A comparison of civic engagement models for offender reentry programs. Criminal Justice Review, 35, 335-353.

Fox, K. (2016). Civic commitment: Promoting desistance through community integration.Punishment & Society.18(1): 68-94.

Fox, K. (2017). Contextualising the policy and pragmatics of Reintegrating sex offenders. Sexual Abuse: A Journal of Research and Treatment. 29(1): 28–50.

Hannem, S., & Petrunik, M. (2007). Circles of Support and Accountability: A community justice initiative for the reintegration of high-risk sex offenders. Contemporary Justice Review, 10, 153-171.

Sampson, R. J., & Laub, J. H. (1993). Crime in the making: Pathways and turning points through life. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Ward, T & Gannon, A. T. (2005). Rehabilitation, etiology, and self-regulation: The comprehensive good lives model of treatment for sexual offenders. Agression and Violent Behavior 11: 77 – 94.

Petrunik, M., & Deutschmann, L. (2008). The exclusion–inclusion spectrum in state and community response to sex offenders in Anglo-American and European jurisdictions.International Journal of Offender Therapy and Comparative Criminology, 52, 499-519.

Van Rensburg, J. (2012). The dawn of Circles of Support and Accountability in New Zealand.Sexual Abuse in Australia and New Zealand, 4, 53-58.

Wilson, R. J., Picheca, J. E., & Prinzo, M. (2005). Circles of Support & Accountability: An evaluation of the pilot project in South-Central Ontario (Research Report R-168). Ottawa.Ontario: Correctional Service of Canada.

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