Introduction

Supervision

Community supervision is a hallmark of sex offender management efforts.  It has become increasingly specialized over time in order to address the unique dynamics and risk factors in these cases. More specifically, parole and other supervision agencies have adopted models that include (see, e.g., Cumming & McGrath (2005), English, et al. (2003):

 In addition, specialized technologies are commonly used to augment sex offender supervision, such as:

When imposing release conditions (or creating laws or agency policies) that involve these technologies, it is important to keep in mind the following caveats (see, e.g., DeMichele, Payne, and Button, 2010; DeMichele, Payne, and Button, 2008; Payne & DeMichele, 2008.) 

Maximizing Supervision Effectiveness

When managing sex offense cases, parole boards and supervision agencies may tend to focus primarily on prohibitions and restrictions, surveillance and monitoring, condition enforcement, and the use of sanctioning for violations.  These activities play an important role for holding sex offenders accountable and managing risk.  But by themselves, they do not reduce recidivism risk over time.  This is, at least in part, because they do not necessarily involve strategies for addressing the dynamic risk factors or criminogenic needs that increase their risk to recidivate.

Research shows that to be most effective in reducing recidivism, a "balanced" approach is needed (see, e.g., Dowden and Andrews, 2004; Gendreau et al., 2001; Lowenkamp, et al., 2006; Smith, et al., 2002).  This means that paroling authorities and supervision officers do not act solely as condition setters and enforcement officials.  Rather, they assume roles as change agents, by using strategies that promote risk-reduction and long-term behavior change.  Examples include:

As a reminder, criminal justice practices have the greatest impact when the core evidence-based correctional principles are applied. This means that for supervising sex offenders, agency policies should ensure that officers:

Parole boards should also endeavor to limit the number of "blanket" sex offender conditions that are imposed.  In recent years it has become increasingly common for jurisdictions to develop and mandate a set of sex offender specific conditions, and to impose all of those conditions on every sex offender being supervised in the community.  Because this population is a very heterogeneous group – posing varied and unique risks and needs – discretion must be used in determining which conditions should be applied in any given case.   Different offenders require different levels, types, and intensity of supervision conditions. 

Responding to Violations

Inevitably, paroling authorities and post-release supervision officers will be faced with some type of non-compliance.  All instances of non-compliance require a response, and they should be swift, certain, and proportional.  And although with sex offenders specifically, an initial tendency may be to revoke their release and return them to incarceration, this is oftentimes not the most appropriate or effective response.  Many issues of non-compliance can be addressed effectively through increasing the intensity or focus of supervision, utilizing intermediate sanctions, and/or using various risk-reducing interventions (e.g., treatment services).
To promote measured, consistent, and objective responses, structured decisionmaking tools and a violations response instrument can prove particularly helpful.  Tools such as these are driven largely by the nature and severity of the violation and the offenders' current risk level – not solely the nature of the conviction – and outline a range of response options that are commensurate with these factors.  In addition to risk level and violation severity, other important factors to consider with sex offenders specifically may include:

  Well-informed responses to violation behaviors are most likely to be implemented when parole agencies and other key stakeholders (e.g., treatment providers and other community supports) work together, on a case-by-case basis, to consider potential interventions within the context of community safety and the risk level and intervention needs of individual offenders.

Implications for Paroling Authorities

Parole boards can support the effective post-release supervision of sex offenders in multiple ways, including:


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