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Meta-Analysis of the Effectiveness of Treatment for Sexual Offenders: Risk, Need, and Responsivity 2009-01

NCJ Number
R. Karl Hanson; Guy Bourgon; Leslie Helmus; Shannon Hodgson
Date Published
40 pages
Based on a meta-analysis of 23 recidivism outcome studies that meet basic criteria for study quality, this study examined whether the principles associated with effective treatments for general offenders (Risk-Need-Responsivity) also apply to sexual offender treatment.
The study found that the unweighted sexual and general recidivism rates for the treated sexual offenders were lower than the rates of the comparison groups (10.9 percent [n=3,625] versus 19.2 percent [n=3,625] for sexual recidivism; 31.8 percent [n=1,979] versus 48.3 percent [n=2,822] for any recidivism). Programs that adhered to the Risk-Need-Responsivity (RNR) principles showed the largest reductions in sexual and general recidivism. Of the three RNR principles, attention to the Need principle would motivate the largest changes in the interventions currently given to sexual offenders. Much remains to be known about the criminogenic needs of sexual offenders; nevertheless, an empirical association with recidivism is a minimum criterion for a factor to be considered a potential dynamic risk factor (criminogenic need). Many of the factors targeted in contemporary treatment programs do not meet this test. Offense responsibility, social skills training, and victim empathy are targets in more than 80 percent of sexual offender treatment programs (McGrath et al., 2003; yet none of these have been found to predict sexual recidivism. Consequently, it would be beneficial for treatment providers to review their programs to ensure that the treatment targets emphasized are those empirically linked to sexual recidivism. Examples of promising criminogenic needs include sexual deviancy, sexual pre-occupation, low self-control, grievance thinking, and lack of meaningful intimate relationships with adults (Hanson & Morton-Bourgon, 2004, 2005). Implications of the findings for researchers are also discussed. 4 tables, 1 figure, and 77 references