The majority of incarcerated sex offenders is eventually released from custody and returns to the community.  Ensuring that justice-involved individuals successfully transition from prison to the community is a challenge for correctional agencies, paroling authorities, and community-based agencies overall.  Facilitating reentry with sex offenders specifically is oftentimes even more challenging.  Reentry efforts must take into account the specific risk factors for sex offenders and the unique barriers that make reentry particularly challenging for this population.  Building upon research-supported and promising reentry initiatives for the "general" offender population, reentry approaches for sex offenders can be enhanced through a number of strategies.

Utilize the leverage of discretionary release to promote risk reduction efforts.  Within the discretionary framework, paroling authorities also have the added benefit of incorporating the results of validated sex offender risk assessment tools into their release decisionmaking processes.  As noted previously, these instruments, particularly when used as to complement general risk assessment tools, provide reliable estimates of recidivism for sexual and non-sexual recidivism, as they take into account the risk factors that are uniquely associated with reoffending among this population (see, e.g., Hanson & Bussiere, 1998, Hanson & Morton-Bourgon, 2005). Ultimately, this can offset some of the concerns experienced by paroling authorities – and can increase their confidence in making release decisions – when they review parole-eligible sex offense cases.  Discretionary release systems also provide paroling authorities the opportunity to facilitate successful sex offender reentry by encouraging or requiring some offenders – depending on assessed level of risk and need – to participate in specialized risk-reducing programs in order to be considered for early release.  In addition, discretionary release practices can be used as a means of requiring sex offenders to develop comprehensive and realistic release plans that take into account suitable housing, employment, and needed services in order to be considered for parole.  And if a release is granted, it can be made conditional upon adherence to special risk-reducing and risk management conditions (e.g., participation in community-based treatment such as sex offender treatment, substance abuse programming, ensuring that housing, employment, and leisure activities are not associated with increased victim access or other risk factors).

In contrast, for jurisdictions or specific cases in which discretionary release is not an option, mandatory releases have the potential to limit opportunities to promote evidence-based and risk-reducing strategies, as:

Taken together, these factors highlight the benefits of a discretionary release structure for promoting sex offender reentry, which can assure more controlled, informed, and objective releases of individuals who are more likely to be successful upon return to the community.

Focus attention on stabilizing and risk reducing services for sex offenders particularly in the months immediately following release.  In a national study of recidivism of sex offenders released from prison, it was found that over one third of the new arrests for any new crimes occurred within the first six months of release; by the end of that first year, well over half of all of the rearrests recorded during the entire three year follow-up period had already occurred.  Most of the remaining arrests were accounted for within year two (Langan et al., 2003). This clearly indicates that the months and years immediately following release from prison are a critical adjustment period for sex offenders.  Therefore, parole boards and post-release supervision agencies must take steps to "frontload" supervision in the initial period following release, recognizing this heightened period of risk.  And for sex offenders who require specialized treatment or other programs, services, and supports, it is important that steps are taken to ensure access and availability of these services at the point of release, and to minimize unnecessary delays or barriers to service delivery.  At the same time, however, they must be mindful of the evidence-based correctional principles and ensure that the supervision strategies and other interventions and services are largely commensurate with sex offenders' assessed level of risk and need.

Promote meaningful collaboration within and across institutional and community lines.  Internal collaboration is required among the various professionals within the prison setting and among key individuals and organizations within the community; and external collaboration is required to bridge the institutional and community dimensions.  More specifically, meaningful partnerships between correctional, paroling authorities, community supervision, law enforcement, mental health, social services, victim advocacy, educational and vocational, employment, and housing entities, as well as the community at large are needed in order to address the range of intervention needs, supports, and risk factors of sex offenders.  Examples of such collaboration include:

Address the rights and needs of victims throughout the parole and reentry process.

The concept of victim-centeredness, or focusing on the interests and concerns to victims throughout the justice system's response to a sexual assault case, is a cornerstone of any comprehensive approach to sex offender management.  Ensuring victim-centeredness is particularly critical for parole board members, who are responsible for making release determinations and setting conditions for offenders who will be supervised in the community.   Parole board members should be sure to: 

  • Ensure that victims are aware of their rights to be heard and to provide input at the parole hearing and provide them with mechanisms to do this;
  • Recognize that victims may elect not to provide in-person or other statements about impact for a variety of reasons, including fear of retaliation, alignment or reliance on the offender post-release, or to avoid reliving the trauma;
  • Ensure that policies and procedures are in place for soliciting victim impact statements at release hearings and notifying victims of offenders' releases;
  • Articulate goals and objectives for parole board interviews/hearings with victims so that they know what to expect from the process;
  • Work with victim advocates and correctional officials to ensure that interested victims receive timely notification about whether and when an offender will be released;
  • Confirm that victim access and victim safety plans have been incorporated into offenders' release plans and are considered for post-release case management planning, or as special conditions of release, when warranted; and
  • When imposing conditions, ensure that victim restitution is ordered.

Regardless of whether or not individual victims opt to participate actively during the release decisionmaking process, it is of paramount importance that paroling authorities receive relevant information about the specific impact of the offense committed by the individual under release consideration. And once release decisions have been made, it is essential that interested victims receive timely notification about whether and when an offender will be released.

Implications for Paroling Authorities

Parole boards can support effective reentry for sex offenders in multiple ways, including:

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