November 24, 2014

Should child sex offenders receive rehabilitation in prison?

11-24-2014 Alabama:

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) – In early November, WIAT 42 ran an investigative report that featured collected letters from sex offenders to see what they would tell parents to protect their children from abusers. That report caused us to take a closer look at what’s going on behind bars in Alabama.

It turns out Alabama is one of a few states that does not offer treatment programs for sex offenders who are in prison.

“If they leave and they are untreated they are two to three times more likely to re-offend than if they are treated and if they are treated re-offense rates are spectacularly low,” says Dr. Barry Burkart, a psychology professor at Auburn University.

Burkhart has spent 40 years studying sexual violence in society. At first he treated victims, but then he decided to tackle the source of the crimes, the offenders themselves.

“I had this kind of epiphany where I realized I could treat all the victims for the rest of my life and not make a dent but if I could treat offenders and prevent victimization,” he said.

His epiphany led him to the Alabama Department of Corrections where he sat on the board and helped develop the only sex offender treatment program at Bullock Correctional Facility. It was a state of the art program at the time ,says Burkhart.

“We were 10 years ahead of the rest of the country, when can you say that Alabama was ahead of anything except football?” added Burkhart.

Alabama had a program that addressed treating sex offenders who had been incarcerated, but got rid of it. So why remove the program?

Burkhart says the state’s administration did not believe the program to be necessary, “It was done during the administration of Fob James…he never talked to me but what I read in the newspapers [was] he did not believe the treatment programs were necessary and, coincidentally to closing the treatment programs, he reintroduced two old style ‘rehabilitation’ methods. He reinstated the chain-gang and the hitching posts.”

That was in 1995, now in 2014, State Senator Cam Ward says he has people asking to bring those methods back, “I have people today who say we should go back to chain gangs we should go back to how Fob did it.”

Ward heads the Alabama Prison Reform Task Force. He says prison reform is a hard push, “So prison reform just the slogan itself is a hard push. But if the face of prison reform becomes how do we help child molesters…the mama and daddy of that [victim] is going to say I don’t care about that.”

He says what they care about is where the money will come from and is the legislature taking it away from victims to treat criminals.

Dr. Burkhart says, “the rehabilitation side is not coming into the discussion, maybe it should, what’s coming into the discussion when I go these task force meetings unanimously is if this is anything about helping sex offenders we are not supporting anything with that going on.”

The discussion is clear for those working on the front lines to end child sexual abuse, “we want criminal justice to do two things, provide justice to the citizens of this state, which includes safety, and also deter, prevent, preclude criminal conduct, and nobody can tell anybody in this state that prisons in Alabama do any of those. They just don’t.”

Right now youth in DYS custody do receive treatment for illegal sex crimes they commit. The governor’s office says if Alabama is to treat adult sex offenders in prison that money needs to come from the legislature. ..Source.. by Sherri Jackson

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