Convicted sexual offenders who are in their 40s, are either married or divorced, and who earn at least $11 an hour are the people most likely to make it through half-way house treatment programs, according to research from the University of Utah.

Also, program completers are more likely to be better adjusted, take more responsibility for their offenses, and use fewer justifications for their crimes than those who did not finish such programs.

The four-year project was conducted by Don Strassberg, a U. psychology professor who specializes in sexual behaviors, and co-authored by Kelly Kinnish, a U. psychology graduate student; and Duane Johnson, a social worker and director of the Center for Family Development in Salt Lake City.

Strassberg recently presented the research, "Prediction of Half-way House Success for Sex Offenders," at the annual meeting of the Association for the Treatment of Abusers in Vancouver.

The research is significant, Strassberg says, because sex offenders who fail to complete treatment -- such as the one-year half-way house program he studied -- generally have a higher risk of reoffending than those who finish treatment.

"If we can identify early on who is going to make it through the program and who will not, we may also identify those who are at significantly greater risk to reoffend once they are out on the street," Strassberg says.

The team followed 121 men participating in a year-long treatment program at a half-way house for sex offenders in the Salt Lake City metropolitan area. Most of the offenders had served time for incest or child molestation crimes.

The half-way house is a place where residents can make the transition between prison and the real world. They are able to leave the house during the day for work, but must return at night and on weekends. Residents also receive group and individual counseling, plus classes in anger management, human sexuality and stress management.

The researchers looked at four factors that might predict success rates among participants: demographics, such as age, marital status and level of education; offense-related data, including relationship to victims, and sex and ages of victims; "therapist ratings" of offender characteristics such as commitment to change and openness to feedback; and test scores that measure the level and nature of the person's psychological problems and identifies thoughts and behaviors specifically associated with sexual offending.

The therapist ratings, test scores and the offender's demographics predicted "quite well" who will make it through the programs, Strassberg says. Variables that did not predict the outcome of program completion included the men's race or education, the age or sex of the victims, the relationship to the victims, or the type of offenses.

Age, income and marital status results were especially telling in determining completion rates, he says.

For example, men between the ages of 20 and 24 had "very little chance" of making it through the program, Strassberg says. "Younger guys are likely to be more impulsive and to show poorer judgement," he says. "Older men may have more to go back to, such as relationships or a good income, and they may be less willing to risk being sent back to prison." Men between the ages of 40 and 49 had the highest success rate, with 76 percent of that group completing treatment, compared to less than 20 percent of the 24-year- old and younger group.

Only 26 percent of the men unemployed at the time they entered the program finished, versus 68 percent of men who earned $11 or more an hour. "That speaks in part to age, and to the type of responsibility it takes to hold down a good-paying job," Strassberg says.

About 45 percent of the single men finished the program, versus 76 percent of the men who were married, divorced or separated. "Men who have the social skills and the interpersonal capacity necessary to relate meaningfully to another person -- enough so the person would want to marry them -- are probably more likely to have the skills to successfully involve themselves in treatment," Strassberg says.

The findings have several potential benefits, he says.

Since it is expensive and time-consuming to treat offenders, these results may help those who make decisions about sex offenders identify those most likely to benefit from treatment. "As resources get tighter, you might chose to use money on those who will benefit," Strassberg says.

"Alternatively, if you can identify men who you already know who are at high risk for not making it through, you might decide to spend more time and money treating those men. These might be exactly the type of people we should be spending more resources on."

The research can also help identify people who need alternative types of treatment than what is currently offered, he says.


Contact: Don Strassberg, 581-7559 Writer: Karen Wolf, 581-4628, [email protected]

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