Community-Based Sex-Offender Treatment Programs and Recidivism

Sex offenders are perhaps the most reviled class of criminal offenders, yet imprisoning low-level sex offenders is not necessarily the best option in terms of social and economic policy. These people might be good candidates for community-based treatment, which can be effective at reducing the likelihood of recidivism and is less expensive than imprisonment. Washington State has a program called the Special Sex Offender Sentencing Alternative (SSOSA) that separates low-risk from high-risk sex offenders and sentences the low- risk offenders to community-based supervision and treatment. Participants must maintain standards of good behavior, comply with imposed conditions, and adhere to the required treatment regimen. Transgressors are removed from SSOSA and incarcerated. This program has raised questions about how well the SSOSA program reduces recidivism. It has also generated concerns among critics who fear that allowing convicted sex offenders to remain in the community jeopardizes public safety.

To address the issue of sex offender recidivism and the effectiveness of the SSOSA program, researchers from the Washington State Institute for Public Policy compared recidivism across sex offenders who were sentenced to SSOSA and those who were sentenced to jail or prison instead of to this community-based treatment program. Recidivism was measured as a conviction for a new crime within 5 years of release from prison or the program. Among the SSOSA group (N = 1,097), 10% were convicted of new crimes; among the non-SSOSA group that was incarcerated (N = 2,994), 30% were reconvicted. Using an alpha level of .05, let us test the null hypothesis that there is no difference between the population proportions against the alternative hypothesis that the SSOSA group’s recidivism rate was significantly lower than the incarceration group’s. The use of a directional hypothesis is justified because the SSOSA program is intended to lower recidivism.

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