Thursday, December 2, 2010

Paying offenders to attend treatment...

An interesting concept was raised today on a list-serve I frequent...

The concept raised was whether or not there could be any benefit to "paying" sexual offenders to attend treatment. One of the persons posting suggested that it was an idea worth piloting.

Well...Let me wade into this.

Approximately 10 years or so ago, the Correctional Service of Canada initiated a process for community-based programs in which offenders (including sexual offenders) on conditional release received $5.00 per group they attended. As the former Chief Psychologist for the community in the Ontario Region, I had first hand experience of this practice. Let me first say that I thought it was a great idea. I saw it as a token acknowledgement of the efforts our participants made in attending programs. Sure, if they didn't attend they could go back to jail, but that was not the point. The National Parole Board had deemed them ready to release, and I saw it as our job to work collaboratively to keep them out, not find ways to put them back in. In some respects, I think this paying guys issue is in line with the broader concept of increasing offender responsivity in treatment. Bottom line: More guys attended more often. Of course, CSC scrapped the program because of "optics" but, while it operated, I think the impact was eminently congruent with our ultimate goal.

Actually, I liked this idea so much that when I moved to Florida, I thought we should try it there, too. However, with a twist. We have a small population of men with severe and persistent mental illness which, ultimately, presents a quite potent barrier to their engagement in comprehensive treatment programming for persons who have sexually offended. Essentially, being floridly psychotic and failing to meet basic activities of daily living gets in the way of understanding lifestyle dysfunction and problematic behavior -- and, ultimately, getting better enough to complete treatment and go home. Too many of our guys were sleeping the day away or languishing in front of the television while we were trying to get them into groups.

So, this was my thought... Why don't we pay them to attend psychotherapy and to attend to their ADLs? We pay other residents to perform various employment tasks, why not see getting better as their primary task or "job"? Sort of like making good mental health the project goal and paying them for attending to issues related to meeting that goal. We started paying each mental health unit resident 25 cents for every group he attends, to a weekly maximum of $5.00. Not much in the way of cost, but check out the Bottom line: Residents started getting up, engaging in morning exercises, showering, and preparing themselves for the day. Group participation increased dramatically, and we ultimately decreased the population of SPMIs in our residential mental health unit by a full third. Many of those discharged residents are now participating fully in our comprehensive treatment program.

Make of these examples what you will, but I am still a strong supporter of the concept. If our ultimate goal is to assist these persons in establishing the sort of balanced, self-determined lifestyles that are incongruent with continued antisociality and hurtful/harmful sexual behavior, any step is the right direction is a step towards harm reduction.



  1. Up until now, getting sex offenders to attend treatment has typically involved threatening them with negative consequences (rearrest, denial of parole, etc) for non-attendance. I can see the benefits of using the carrot over the stick although I can also imagine how critics of the current sex offender treatment model would misrepresent that kind of approach.

  2. Hey Romeo. Nice to hear from you. I hope the Hamilton winter doesn't freeze you too severely. Be well, my friend.