Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Norway is increasing their focus on systematic treatment to high-risk persons who have sexually offended

By Ingeborg Jenssen Sandbukt

In 2015, the Norwegian Directorate of Health allocated money for a three year pilot project offering treatment to high-risk, sex-convicted persons. The project, BASIS (an acronym derived from the Norwegian name, Behandling Av Seksuallovbruddsdømte I Sør-øst) was carried out in the period 2016-2019 in the South-Eastern region of Norway. The project collaborated closely with international experts to implement a Good Lives Model-derived individualized sex offence treatment approach in Norway. Up until then, individual treatment aiming to reduce recidivism was rarely offered to this group while in prison, and the Correctional Service called for better and more systematic treatment options.
Norway’s structural policies are closely aligned with what Braithwaite called reintegrative shaming. (Reintegrative shaming, which focuses on the individual’s behavior and is related to the trend towards positive criminology, is not to be confused with traditional shame, in which the person feels bad about who they are.)  Sentences are relatively short in length, and persons convicted of sexual offences live side by side with other prisoners. Rehabilitation is considered a corner-stone in the Norwegian Correctional Service, and there are no registries after release.
However, there has been a substantial increase in the proportion of prisoners serving sentences for sex offences for the past 20 years, and the increase is seen as a challenge for the Norwegian Correctional Services. Persons convicted of sexual offences now make up about 19 % of the total prison population, compared to about only 6 % in 2000. The main reason for this increase is not a higher number of persons convicted of sexual offences (although we have seen a small increase in convictions as well), but a new Penal Code leading to more severe punishment for serious crimes, including longer prison sentences for sexual offences. Current court practice witness of an extensive increase in lengths of sentencing for some types of sexual offences for the past ten years, and it has been argued that Norway’s penal state has moved in a more punitive direction (Shammas, 2016). Several Continental European countries have in fact for the past years enacted more restrictive laws on sexual offending (McAlinden, 2012). In addition to longer sentences for sexual offences, other less severe crimes are more often than before subject of other forms of punishment than imprisonment, leading to a larger proportion of persons convicted of sexual offences in Norwegian prisons (Shammas, 2016).
Through the BASIS project, the health sector has collaborated with the Correctional Service to identify and locate high-risk individuals. All sex-convicted persons in the chosen region have been subject to a systematic risk screen using the STATIC-99R. Persons with a risk score of 4 and higher have been offered further assessment and individual treatment with trained psychologists. The STATIC-99R has not yet been validated in Norway, but the project group is working on results from a retrospective follow-up study to confirm validity.
Individual treatment using the Good Lives Model has been successful among patients (n=21) in the BASIS project. The future- and strengths-based approach seems to fit with the Norwegian values and the focus on rehabilitation and re-inclusion after release. Patients have stayed motivated and most have wanted to continue treatment after conditional release from prison. The collaboration between treatment providers and Corrections staff has been a key factor to succeed in implementing this new method for patient inclusion and treatment in Norway. Furthermore, the BASIS psychologists have had the opportunity to participate at international conferences like ATSA, and quality of treatment has been secured through regular supervision sessions with outside consultants.
A final conference marking the end of the BASIS project was held in Oslo June 4, 2019, with attendees participating from around Norway. The BASIS project’s final report, launched at the conference, recommended that systematic risk screening and individual treatment of the high-risk group is implemented nationally to reduce sexual recidivism among sex-convicted persons. As a result of the systematic work through these three years, authorities have allocated money to offer similar treatment in all health regions in Norway, based on the BASIS model. This is great news, and an important step in the direction of ending sexual abuse. Systematic risk-screening will be continued as a first step in including patients, and The Good Lives Model is the chosen treatment approach.
McAlinden, A.-M. (2012). The governance of sexual offending across Europe: Penal policies, political economies and the institutionalization of risk. Punishment & Society, 14(2), 166-192. doi:10.1177/146247451143557
Shammas, V. L. (2016). The Rise of a More Punitive State: On the Attenuation of Norwegian Penal Exceptionalism in an Era of Welfare State Transformation. Critical Criminology, 24(1), 57-74. doi:10.1007/s10612-015-9296-1






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