To give you a little of my background, I am employed by the Office of the Attorney General in Prince Edward Island. Basically, I see anybody and everybody charged with a sexual offence in Prince Edward Island.
P.E.I. is perhaps a little unusual in that we are able to offer treatment to everybody who's convicted. In addition, the majority of people who either plead guilty or are found guilty undergo a comprehensive assessment prior to sentencing, which means that at the time of sentencing the judge has access to expert opinion regarding the person's level of dangerousness, the nature of their offence, what's needed in order to reduce the risk of recidivism, and what's needed in terms of external controls and treatment.
In preparing for this, I actually thought that I probably couldn't say anything better than to quote from a position statement that was created by ATSA, the Association for the Treatment of Sexual Abusers. It has approximately 3,000 members worldwide, made up largely of people who do research and clinical work. Dr. Marshall, who you just heard, is a past president of ATSA.
In November of 1996 they published a position paper. I'm going to quote some of that. They said:
It is important to understand that sex offenders are not all the same and, in fact, this heterogeneous group of individuals includes a tremendous variety in age, psychological profile, and history of offending. ...Many people's awareness of sex offenders has been formed by media descriptions of the most serious offenders, frequently offenders who also murdered their victims. Certainly these offenders have committed very heinous acts and merit society's attention and censure; however, it is important to realize that this type of offender does not represent the typical sex offender.
They state that people who commit sexual offences “differ greatly in terms of their level of impulsiveness, persistence, the risks they pose to the public and their desire to change their behavior”. They also say that “[e]ffective public policy needs to be cognizant of the differences among” people who sexually offend “rather than applying a 'one size fits all' approach”.
That kind of reiterates Dr. Marshall's comment about the difficulty in drafting legislation that's going to recognize those differences. I think when you start imposing minimum sentences you're taking away from judicial discretion and from being able to tailor both the sentence and such things as probation orders to what's needed.
To touch a little on what Dr. Marshall was saying about the effectiveness of incarceration, I was fortunate to listen to a presentation by Paul Gendreau, a Ph.D. who is with the justice institute of New Brunswick. What he said is that in the 1950s and 1960s, when Canadian prisoners spent more time in prison, the recidivism rate was actually 2% higher. In a comparison between a brief period of incarceration and no incarceration at all, he found a 0% difference in recidivism. In other words, two people with the same offence are equally likely to reoffend where one goes to jail and one doesn't.
One study found that if you incarcerate low-risk offenders with high-risk offenders it produces a 1% increase in recidivism for the high-risk offenders and a 6% increase for the low-risk. That's the problem you get when you have overcrowding in prisons.
In the mid-1970s it was found that intensive supervision with little or no treatment again resulted in a 1% increase. Fines alone, with no incarceration, produced a 3% decrease. Boot camps produced a 1% increase; drug testing, a 1% decrease; electric monitoring, a 3% increase; and counselling of any type, an 11% decrease.
Similar effects were found by Don Andrews, who reviewed existing studies for common factors about what works and what doesn't. He looked at over 30 studies and found that punishment alone results in a 7% increase in recidivism, which increases further with the severity of the punishment. Punishment plus treatment produced a 15% reduction.
Clearly, what works does not fit with what people might think, and efforts to make communities safer need to be based on research-based knowledge. Dr. Gendreau concluded that in the Correctional Service of Canada there is sometimes an inverse relationship between what is being done and what is known to be effective.
To look at the recidivism rates for people who commit sexual offences, again, the common perception in the public is that everyone who commits a sexual offence will eventually reoffend. In fact, it's just the opposite. Canadian research has found that, overall, the rates for sexual recidivism, expressed as either new charges or convictions, were 14% over five years, 20% over 10 years, and 24% over 15 years.
It's equally important to understand that in terms of recidivism, sex offenders are not a homogenous group. Child molesters who offend against unrelated boys recidivate at 35% over 15 years. At the other end, incest offenders reoffend at 13% over 15 years. Child molesters who molest unrelated girls fall in between.
It is also important to note that those who have prior sex offences recidivate at approximately double the rate of first-time offenders. The majority of people in Canada who are charged with a sexual offence do not have a previous record.
In terms of the effectiveness of sex offender treatment, there was a problem in early studies that had to do with the need to achieve statistical significance. In simple terms, it means that if I were to flip a coin ten times and it came up heads eight times, you could get that result purely by chance. If I flipped a coin 100 times, and it came up heads 80 times, that would be statistically significant.
When I started in this field 23 years ago, the consensus I was getting from the literature and from talking to other people was that, to be effective, treatment took between two and five years in an open-ended approach, with no clear content or criteria for termination.
Studies using a sample size of 100 and a base rate of 50% untreated who reoffend and 40% reduction in recidivism produce a result that's not statistically significant. This problem was resolved through an ATSA collaborative data research project headed up by Karl Hanson, who is with corrections research at Public Safety Canada, which defined standards for treatment outcomes and did a meta-analysis of all the old studies.
The study found that on average across all studies treatment produced a reduction in sexual recidivism: from 16.8% to 12.3%. When you sifted out current treatments, those that were known to be the most effective at the time, the reduction went from 17.4% untreated to 9.9% treated. And community-based treatment programs tended to be more effective than institutionally based treatment. That has to do with the problem of providing treatment in a setting that's basically hostile to individuals, that does not encourage openness or change.
So what is now known is that whereas shorter periods of incarceration alone produces a zero per cent difference from no incarceration, and longer periods of incarceration produce an increase in recidivism, incarceration plus treatment produces significant decreases. This holds true for sex offenders, the same as it does for the general criminal population. We also know that most effective sex-offender treatments make use of what is known through research and is based in the community.
In passing any legislation, you have to be aware of unintended consequences. Increasing minimum sentences also results in a need for more jail cells and more correctional staff. This is likely to be particularly true in provincial correctional systems, where treatment resources are already limited. More money then goes into what is known about what doesn't work and less into what does.
There's also increasing difficulty among sex offenders in adjusting to release in the community the longer they've been incarcerated. One of the things I have found with the people I treat is that those who are able to obtain employment upon release into the community are primarily those whose employers held their jobs open for them. With a relatively small period of incarceration, that becomes possible. With longer periods, employers are either unwilling or unable to do so.
You also have to take a look at the increased feelings of alienation and of being singled out as less trustworthy, more likely to reoffend, and less acceptable than people who commit other forms of crime. That, in turn, can lead to social and emotional isolation, both of which are factors that seem to increase the risk for reoffending.
One of the advantages of P.E.I. being a small province is that sometimes we're able to approach things more comprehensively. People who are incarcerated here can start their treatment while they're incarcerated. They're escorted by correctional officers into the community to where my office is and attend group treatment sessions there. We try to time it so that at least one third of their treatment takes place after their release into the community. What this means is that they begin to learn how to change their behaviour while in a secure setting and start to apply it once they're out, with the support of their treatment groups.
My concern is that increases in minimum sentences will limit correction dollars that are available for the extra shifts that are needed for correctional officers to escort the sex offender into the treatment sessions. I can't emphasize enough the value of their being able to get out of that correctional setting and into a setting where they feel safe, where they feel they can be open, where they can express themselves and begin to look at their problems.
That's all I have to say for now.