Sex offenders denying guilt to be allowed on treatment programme

Funding sought for scheme that will not require offenders to talk about crime

About 100 of the some 400 sex offenders in Irish prisons currently deny committing any crime or are appealing their case. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

About 100 of the some 400 sex offenders in Irish prisons currently deny committing any crime or are appealing their case. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

 

The Irish Prison Service (IPS) is seeking funding for a sex offender treatment programme which will not require offenders to admit or talk about their crimes.

About 100 of the some 400 sex offenders in Irish prisons currently deny committing any crime or are appealing their case.

The denial of guilt by offenders is one of the main factors in the low uptake of sex offender treatment among those serving sentences.

Of the 135 sex offenders released in 2018, less than 20 took part in the main treatment programme, known as Building Better Lives (BBL), which has been shown to reduce the risk of re-offending by a factor of four.

Other reasons offenders did not take part include a lack of motivation, insufficient time in their sentences and pending appeals, the IPS said.

Now the IPS is seeking to set up a specialist treatment programme based on a Canadian model which will allow offenders who deny committing any crime to take part.

Convictions

The move comes at a time when convictions for sexual offending are on the rise. In a strategic planning document released last week the IPS said it expects the number of sex offenders in prison to continue to increase over the next three years.

The deniers programme will be based on a programme devised by Dr William Marshall, one of world’s leading experts in sex offender treatment. It does not require prisoners to admit what they’ve done or even to speak about it directly.

Instead treatment focuses on factors related to the offending such as risk management, substance abuse and impulse control. Senior IPS staff were impressed by a presentation on the programme last year by a Canadian expert.

International research shows treatment can be highly effective in reducing recidivism even if the offender never admits their offence.

“This evidence cannot be ignored and provides a clear rationale to expand the access to the BBL programme,” the IPS said.

“Individuals cannot be ‘forced’ to admit to their offence, nor should they be denied treatment,” an IPS spokesman told The Irish Times.

“Similar to the approach in Canada, the focus of this group will be to identify the problematic dynamic factors relevant to offending and engage in treatment of these factors.”

World-wide praise

The Canadian approach, known as the Rockwood programme, has received world-wide praise but it is not without its critics.

The UK’s National Offender Management Service previously rejected the idea of introducing the Rockwood programme due to reluctance about creating “two tiers of sex offender treatment, one seemingly easier than the other”.

It said it wanted to avoid inadvertently “rewarding” those who deny their offending by allowing them to undergo a less intense programme.

There are several types of deniers in Irish prisons, according to prison sources. Categorical deniers are the most resistant to treatment as they claim they have done absolutely nothing wrong.

Some admit much of the substance of their offending but argue it did not constitute a crime because they claim the victim consented. Others, particularly those caught with child abuse imagery, admit committing a crime but seek to minimise its seriousness.

“All of them are challenging for different reasons. Some think they have a chance of winning their appeals. Others can’t actually admit to themselves or their families out of pure shame,” a source working in the treatment of prisoners said.

The IPS is developing the deniers’ group alongside the Probation Service and has put forward a proposal for funding.

Subject to funding, it will proceed this year with the rollout of the IPS 2019-2022 strategic plan, it said.