November 18, 2016

Community Fights State Changes To Sex Offender Treatment Program, Say Traditions Protect Villages

11-18-16 Alaska:

Community members are concerned that sexual assault in the YK Delta may be about to increase, and that nearly a decade of work treating sex offenders and working with communities will be lost.

The worry comes as state budget cuts reduced within a month the region’s Sex Offender Treatment Program from two clinicians and a case manager, with over 30 years combined experience treating sex offenders, to one clinician with four months experience. State officials traveled to Bethel to hear these concerns from the program’s advisory board, which says too much was taken away too fast.

“It’s like gutting it right at this important stage where you’ve got communities that want this program. Elders, tribal councils that were willing to meet and discuss about these really hard issues about sex offending," said Joan Dewey, a mental health clinician at the Bethel Family Clinic. A year ago, she retired from the state after working with the YK Delta Sex Offender Treatment Program. Now, she serves on the program’s advisory board.

Three officials with the Department of Corrections, which is responsible for the program, traveled to Bethel on Wednesday to meet with the board, saying they wanted to improve communication and avoid misinformation. However, the officials repeatedly sidestepped or ignored questions from members throughout the meeting and said that all media queries had to be directed to their public information officer in Anchorage. Dewey called the meeting disappointing.

“It wasn’t really addressing what the community concerns are,” she said.

The Department says that state budget cuts drove the staff reduction and will save the program nearly $17,000 per participant. Dewey sees the decision as shortsighted.

“That is a mere pittance of what the cost is to society, to families, to these communities to incarcerate, to re-try, for the court system, for all the different parts that are involved.”

The DOC's big news was that the state is replacing its Sex Offender Treatment Programs with a system developed with First Nations communities in Canada. The board said they didn't want that. They want support for what they have. They’ve seen too many programs fail and too many programs from the outside claim to know better than what the region’s traditions offer.

“Whenever they come from the outside, they go," Dewey said, "they don’t stay. So this is a concern. Why would we want to bring in something when we have a program that’s working, that has proven that it works, that has made significant changes in the lives of families and communities?”

The region’s program started in 2008 and incorporates Yup’ik values and culture. The re-offense rate is 1.7 percent, less than the state’s average of three to five percent. Dewey says that when the program started, communities didn’t talk about sexual offense. Now, nearly 40 of the region’s villages are involved, and 500 volunteers serve as safety net members: people who know the offender’s story, triggers, and how to help. And this involvement spreads recovery.

“We’ve had many safety net members who’ve disclosed their own sexual abuse, so they begin to have some opportunity for healing themselves, because they become aware that a man can change, a perpetrator can change,” Dewey said.

And keeping this healing going, keeping this program going, is crucial. Most sex offenders who come to the program have sexually abused 20 to 45 people, sometimes an entire generation in one village. Over the last eight years, this program has shown that it can help stop that.

The DOC public information officer did not respond to questions by the time this story was published. ..Source.. by Anna Rose MacArthur

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