Moving from Detention to Prevention
While at a community event recently, I was asked what I do for a living. I have a love/hate relationship with this question. On one hand, I’m typically happy to tell people that I work to prevent sexual violence. But sometimes, I just don’t want to open that can of worms. But I decided to delve into my spiel about prevention, and mentioned the importance of effective treatment for those who offend. “Do you really believe they can be rehabilitated?” said the person in disbelief. She made her opinion clear: rehabilitation of sex offenders was NOT possible. It brought to mind our research with the Frameworks institute around the many misconceptions some people have about perpetrators.
It really had me thinking. Many current social change efforts focus on preventing first-time perpetration. But what role does treatment for those who have already offended play in preventing sexual violence? It stands to reason that by providing early, effective treatment to those who have offended, we could reduce the number of re-offenses. But this means that communities, states, and federal entities would have to invest in treatment and support instead of releasing them back into the world with little (if any) of either. Some of the research about the impact of effective treatment strategies on the lowering of recidivism rates is out there already, especially when it comes to adolescents who have offended. While exploring the issue, I found many helpful articles and links from organizations like the New England Adolescent Research Institute (NEARI) and the Association for the Treatment of Sexual Abusers (ATSA). Then, I discovered a very interesting approach that is happening just 40 miles from our offices in Central Pennsylvania. It’s called Circles of Support and Accountability, a program of the Center for Community Peacemaking. This approach, based on a similar effort in Canada started by the Mennonite Central Committee, embraces the idea that no human is disposable and that providing support and treatment will change behaviors and prevent re-offending. Circles consist of the person who has offended, several highly trained volunteers, and professional service providers. Those who have offended are provided daily support and accountability through phone calls and in-person meetings. Intense? Yes. A huge commitment on the part of the community, volunteers, and professionals? Absolutely. Worth it? According to their website, research shows that when offenders participate in the Circles, recidivism is reduced by 70%.
This may not be the magic pill we are looking for; then again, maybe it is. What I do know is that a well-researched, person-centered approach to treating those who offend is desperately needed if we want to create communities that are safe for everyone. Isn’t that what prevention is all about?
What do you think about the Circles of Support approach? Let us know by leaving a comment below.