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Treaters or Punishers?: The Ethical Role of Mental Health Clinicians in Sex Offenders Programs

NCJ Number
Aggression and Violent Behavior Volume: 14 Issue: 4 Dated: July/August 2009 Pages: 248-255
Bill Glaser
Date Published
July 2009
8 pages
This paper examines the ethical role of mental health clinicians in sex offender programs, with attention to principles that govern the justification for, and the use of, punishment.
A code of ethics based on the justification of punishment should address a number of questions. In the context of this paper, three issues are significant. First, is it necessary to disclose to offenders and the community that treatment-as-punishment (especially sex offender treatment) is part of their punishment, even though this is the fact? Second, which of the traditional justifications for punishment is most applicable to the specific ethical challenges of treatment-as-punishment, and how? Third, what are the pitfalls of such a code? Regarding the first question, the author argues that for clinicians in sex offender programs, showing good faith means stating explicitly to the community, offenders, and themselves that what they are providing is not treatment, but rather a form of punishment (involuntary treatment, limitations on freedom, violations of confidentiality in reporting on risk assessments, and restrictions on autonomy). In addressing the second question, the paper argues that a "consequentialist" model of punishment is the best "fit" for what actually happens in sex offender treatment. The consequentiality model is based on the ideal that something is ethically justified if it furthers the common good, and especially if it provides the greatest happiness or satisfaction to the greatest number in the community. This is what occurs in treatment-as-punishment for sex offenders, since the aim is to ensure that the offender does not commit further offenses. The ethical commitment of therapists is to ensure that the measures adopted are not excessive in going beyond what is effective in preventing reoffending. The pitfalls of such a code are engaging in excessive punishment beyond what is needed to stop reoffending. 46 references