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Helen is an Associate Lecturer teaching modules in years 1 and 3.
Earlier this year, the Prison Service announced that the Core Sex Offender Treatment Programme and the Extended Sex Offender Treatment Programme would be withdrawn with immediate effect. Offenders in the middle of programmes would be able to complete, but no new programmes would start. No explanation was given. A new suite of programmes, focussed on building strengths for the future rather than analysing past offending, had already been developed but a gradual roll-out had been planned rather than a sudden switch. There were many murmurings among Parole Board members. Why the sudden withdrawal? How would sex offenders now be able to demonstrate that they had reduced their risk? Where was the evidence that the new programmes were any better? We suspected that there had been an unfavourable evaluation, but no one had seen the research.
The truth came to light via The Mail on Sunday on 25th June. There had, indeed, been an unfavourable evaluation of the Sex Offender Treatment Programme (SOTP). When compared to matched offenders who had not completed treatment, those who had done so were more likely to re-offend. The Ministry of Justice had withdrawn the programme but had not published the research. They finally did so on 30th June.
The decision to sit on the research was not helpful. The first information we received about it was filtered through the eyes of The Mail on Sunday. They claimed that “Prisoners who take the rehabilitation courses are at least 25% more likely to be convicted of further sex crimes that those who do not.” This is not true. Of the 2,562 treated sex offenders included in the study, 10% went on to commit another sexual offence. The figure for the matched untreated offenders was 8%. 90% of sex offenders, treated or untreated, did not reoffend within the follow-up period (average 8.2 years). But it is true that treatment made people worse. Two percentage points is a small difference, but with such a large sample size it is significant. The research is robust and well-designed. A randomised control trial would have been more robust, but the matched comparisons in this study were done thoroughly and every attempt was made to take account of possible confounding variables. You can read the study for yourself here:
and the Mail‘s interpretation of it here:
So why did treatment make offenders more likely to reoffend? At this stage we really don’t know. The authors of the research make some suggestions but they are only speculating. Perhaps talking about sex offending in a group setting “normalises” offending. Perhaps groupwork provides offenders with opportunities to network. Perhaps these programmes promoted shame in offenders which ultimately reduced self-esteem and self-efficacy and reduced the chances of building a positive and fulfilling future. The new programmes draw more from the desistance literature. They include much less offence analysis and are more focussed on building strengths for a positive future. They may be more likely to succeed but we will not know for several years until we have had the chance to evaluate them.
So where does that leave the offenders and staff who have worked hard on these programmes over the years? Sex offender treatment is expensive, tiring and takes a psychological toll on those delivering it. A prison officer once told me that delivering SOTP was the best and most fulfilling thing he had ever done, but also the most damaging. A couple of weeks ago, I was talking to a former colleague who used to run SOTP and we reflected, “Was all of that effort for nothing?” We have to take the research seriously, learn the lessons and move on. There is no denying the findings. But perhaps we shouldn’t be too hard on ourselves. SOTP was based on the best research available at the time. It was modified and developed over the years in the light of emerging research. It might have “worked” for some participants, even if it made others worse. We assessed and came to understand a large number of sex offenders. As a result of that work and this evaluation, we now have a better understanding of what might work to reduce reoffending in the future. Of course, there is an argument that all attempts at rehabilitation are futile, that people choose to behave as they wish and we should not try to manipulate them to change. But perhaps that’s a subject for another blog!
Chris is a BA Criminology graduate of 2017 and was motivated to write this blog through the experience of his own dissertation. His dissertation was on the Experience of Hate crime: Exploring professional perspectives of racist hate crime against ethnic minority.
The issue of racially motivated violence against ethnic minority groups in the UK was an important focus of media discussion both during and after the referendum on leaving the EU. Hate crimes, in general, have often been a source of debate for legal theorists, academics, politicians, journalists and law enforcement officials. Many perceive it to be a crime that is usually driven by prejudice towards the victim. Professionals working in the field have therefore all made efforts to understand and address hate crime, as one of the most unpleasant manifestations of human prejudice.
As a research topic, racist hate crime within the UK has been widely explored ever since the unprovoked racist murder of black teenager Stephen Lawrence, who was stabbed to death in south-east London twenty-three years ago. His unfortunate death led to a determined campaign for justice by his family spanning many years. It is therefore argued that “Stephen’s death had come to personify racial violence in the UK”; the vigorous campaign by Stephen’s parents had since led to changes in the law and given a voice to victims of hate crimes.
The findings in my dissertation revealed that victims of racially aggravated incidents experience immense psychological and physical harm. In essence, racially motivated incidents harm society and destroy community cohesion among different ethnic groups. The racial abuse inflicted on victims often leaves them in constant fear that the incident may happen again. Eastern Europeans were particularly found to be prone to racial attacks following the decision of the UK to leave the EU. Racial violence is an ongoing social phenomenon, as incidents of such violence often seem to occur without end.
The data I collected suggested that victims of racist hate crime isolate themselves and adopt different ways to avoid direct contact with the offender; hence this creates barriers for the victim and their family members and may prevent them from using local amenities. Victims of racist crime would rather use the facilities of nearby cities or towns, and this further deepens their social isolation from the local community. Victims will constantly worry about where to socialise, which community to live in, which school their children should attend and where to work.
New victims are being targeted as a result of the recent arrival of refugees, asylum seekers and migrant workers from Eastern Europe. Indeed, migrant workers from the EU have suffered the greatest number of racial attacks in the past year. This has occurred in line with the view presented by some politicians in the media that the purpose of the EU referendum is to enable the UK to take control of its borders.
The issue of race and immigration has been shown to be consistent within the broader research literature on racist hate crime. Like wise, my dissertation findings also suggest links between race and immigration, as both of my participants did not generalise the concept of race. Instead, they discussed and associated it with ethnic minority groups or those deemed inferior by the dominant population. In other words, participants associated race with individuals that have experienced racial abuse and hostility by the host population.
Indeed, race and immigration have been socially constructed and this has reinforced stigmatisation towards already marginalised groups. In essence, there is very little political will to change or even challenge prejudiced and discriminatory views against foreigners. Racial violence is an ongoing social phenomenon, as incidents of such violence often seem to occur without end. A recent data recorded by the Crime Survey for England and Wales indicates that victims of hate crimes are more likely to be repeat victims and up to four times more likely to suffer more serious psychological impacts.
In sum, the data I collected towards my dissertation strongly suggests that victims of racially aggravated incidents undergo an immense amount of psychological and physical harm. The racial abuse inflicted on victims was found to leave an enduring impression of constant fear that the incident may happen again. Nevertheless, with one voice let’s end Hate Crime.
Nahida is a BA Criminology graduate of 2017. Her dissertation, ‘On Degradation and Shaming’ explored the problems noted in this post.
Throughout studying for a Criminology degree, we are lectured upon the causation of crime, and how there is no, one single cause. However, it is interesting to see how the stereotypes that were once instilled inside us, are no longer a part of our daily voice of reason. We begin to question the very organisation, many of us want to become a part of; that being the criminal justice system itself. We come to realise, that the system, as most things is flawed.
It is public knowledge that the criminal justice system is full to the brim with defendants, offenders, victims and the innocent; amongst many other people. Therefore, as a result of these massive caseloads, the whole process from a crime being reported, to the guilty being sentenced, can become similar to a factory-line; making the procedure very impersonal. Justice can often be delayed and denied. This has a huge impact on all the parties involved; including the ones accused of a crime i.e. the defendants.
Throughout the whole process, defendants can often feel as though they are being discriminated against. It has been found that the criminal justice system, particularly the courtrooms create distance between society and the defendant. Courtrooms in England and Wales are set up in a manner in which the defendants are removed, and made to stand out of the ordinary. They are often placed in their own cage of sorts, and told to not speak, unless spoken to. This can leave defendants, who are potentially innocent, feel degraded and shamed. Courtrooms can often leave defendants without a voice, prohibiting them to feel, or even express remorse. Disallowing an offender to express remorse, can be detrimental to their rehabilitation; and even the victim’s lives. We, as a society, can have hope for criminal rehabilitation, but the way in which our justice system is set up, can hinder that very process.
Through observations made at the local crown court, it has been found that judges tend to not address the causation of the supposed crime. It is understood that people do not commit crime in a vacuum. Something has to lead them to it. Therefore, not allowing one to truly comprehend what has caused the alleged crime in the first place, can be argued as problematic, for the root issue cannot be solved, if it is not identified in the first place. This could be argued as one of the many reasons why there still remains to be a high reoffending rate. To stop reoffending, one must address the causation. However, it can be found that many parts of our criminal justice system does not perform such investigations. Therefore, how can we expect the system to achieve its aim of reducing crime, when it is potentially causing further criminality, without even intending to?