In north central Iowa, a two-year-old program is now more effectively managing the growing sex offender population in the community. During the last two years, Iowa's 2nd Judicial District's dedicated Sex Offender Treatment Program (SOTP) staff has doubled--from four sex offender officers to eight and from one psychologist and one polygraph examiner to two of each. The additional positions have allowed for the expansion of sex offender services in the district for sex offenders on probation and parole. Previous budget cuts had dictated primary treatment groups be contracted out to local community-based agencies, but with the additional positions added in 2005, the psychologists have assisted in the development of in-house SOTP services in Iowa's largest geographical judicial district. The psychologists, under the direction of the residential division manager, began planning, evaluating and implementing client services. With this focus in place, many community partnerships flourished.
The 2nd Judicial District sex offender staff have a strong relationship with sex offender staff in the other seven judicial districts. Supervisors and managers are cognizant of their staff expertise and are willing to share resources. For example, the 5th Judicial District implemented a pilot project in 2005 to develop a new employee orientation/academy focused on community-based corrections topics. In turn, a 2nd Judicial District psychologist from Fort Dodge assisted the 5th Judicial District by providing training on mental health, suicide intervention and sex offender services for new employees. SOTP staff from the 2nd Judicial District have been members of several statewide committees on sex offender issues. In addition, the Durrant Group has been providing sex offender focus groups and will make recommendations regarding the future of sex offender management in Iowa. The Center for Sex Offender Management (CSOM) trains individuals to be trainers on its curriculum. This two-and-a-half-day training provides information on how to train others on sex offender supervision and treatment. The Iowa Board for the Treatment of Sexual Abusers (IBTSA) is a state organization that brings sex offender staff together for training and certification. IBTSA was established in 1991 to provide individual certification for professionals in the area of sex offender treatment. While IBTSA is not a state agency and there are no code provisions establishing authority for certification, the Iowa Department of Corrections has adopted IBTSA's standards through its policies. (1)
With more staff, the district was able to take over more of the services for area sex offenders. Prior to August 2005, the primary treatment groups for sex offenders were being contracted out to Catholic Social Services in Fort Dodge, and district staff only assisted in co-facilitating two of the groups, until 2006 when they took over the full responsibility of the program. The local community-based agency was also responsible for psychosexual evaluations; however, the district took over these services in January 2006. As the district took on more responsibilities, between September 2005 and January 2006, the new psychologists traveled throughout the four service areas--Marshalltown, Ames, Fort Dodge and Mason City--to become familiar with staff. They also traveled to Waterloo to gain program development information from Patti Smilanich, a 1st Judicial District psychologist who has a reputation of excellence in the area of sex offender services.
Within the 2nd Judicial District, each of the four service area offices have a compliment of staff to provide services--two sex offender specialists at the level of probation officer 3 to provide supervision, staff that help the sex offender specialists as group facilitators, a polygraph examiner and a psychologist. The two district polygraph examiners and two district psychologists each provide services for two area offices and are members of two local treatment teams. In order for the unique logistics to function properly, communication between staff is extensive and ongoing. The psychologists and the polygraph examiners have continuous communication, and their positions are designated as district wide sex offender services, meaning that they can work throughout the 22 counties that comprise the district. All sex offender staff meet on a quarterly basis to review issues, select committees to address topics of service and propose implementation of ideas to assist the four service areas. For example, through these meetings, staff have suggested a needs assessment to anticipate services and resources that will be needed in the next five years.
The district uses a cognitive-behavioral treatment approach in a group setting. Primary treatment groups for sex offenders incorporate eight components from the Naval Consolidated Brig Miramar's Sex Offender Treatment Program in San Diego--treatment responsibility, empathy, cognitive restructuring, managing deviant sexual arousal, relapse prevention, sexuality, healthy relationships and continuing care. In addition to primary groups, aftercare is being offered in all service areas. The psychologists have assisted in planning and implementing supervision, education, and training and support groups (SETS). This program incorporates significant people in the sex offender's life in an effort to enhance his or her support system and develop another person's understanding of the client's treatment plan. The Connections Workbook (Sage Publications Inc.), by Jill S. Levenson and John W. Morin, is utilized for weekly topics. Upon completion of the group, the individuals become accountability treatment members (ATM) and have ongoing contact with the local SOTP team.
In Marshalltown and Ames, the area staffs decided to share resources and, by doing so, added a primary group for low-functioning clients. The local treatment teams have been challenged by this specific population, and often the psychologist would provide individual treatment services initially, in hopes of preparing a client for the group process. This treatment group uses the Footprints: Steps to a Healthy Life workbook (Safer Society Press), by Krishan Hansen and Timothy Kahn, and additional materials such as journals to assist the clients in gaining self-awareness and an understanding of how events trigger thoughts, feelings and behaviors.
Each local SOTP continually works to inform and educate the public on matters of managing sex offenders in the community. Public forums have addressed treatment and supervision issues, as well as the impact of new laws pertaining to sex offenders living in Iowa. In Marshalltown, for example, probation officers have been working with community support staff from the 1st Judicial District and the local Domestic/Sexual Assault Center to present a victim-impact panel involving sex offenders being treated in the community. This type of restorative justice format has been used in some of the institutions in Iowa. Many staff within the sex offender services program also volunteer and help organize community events. Employee Recognition Day is an event that has been in existence for more than 10 years. It is a day retreat for staff, during which the "Friend of Corrections" award is given to an organization or individual in the community for an outstanding contribution to the field of corrections.
In Ames, the area psychologist addressed a recent IBTSA meeting and presented a treatment plan format, which may be adopted as the standard for all sex offender programs under the auspice of IBTSA. Under IBTSA, the community-based sex offender programs in Iowa have already adopted the Naval Consolidated Brig Miramar curriculum. The psychologists have developed additional component outlines, outside resources lists and rated assignments for each component as a way of providing additional objective quality assurance when rating clients at the end of each treatment component in the curriculum. Ames staff have also participated in a statewide committee to address implementation of GPS monitoring for sex offenders whose victims were under age 18. As a result, this technology has been implemented statewide.
In Fort Dodge, probation officers and the area psychologist have conducted four public forums to discuss topics such as supervision of sex offenders, myths and facts related to sexual abuse, and the treatment format. It is a strong belief within the sex offender program that education of the public is necessary. Staff have provided numerous trainings for area churches, community-based agencies and schools on sex offender supervision and treatment, as well as safety on the Internet. Staff teach and give presentations to students in psychology and social welfare classes at area colleges like Iowa Central Community College and Buena Vista University. A district psychologist also worked with Fort Dodge sex offender staff and community agencies on a project that addressed the issue of black males having a lower completion rate in Batterers' Education Programs. In addition, the Fort Dodge Probation and Parole Office and the staff and clients of the Fort Dodge Residential Center started a food drive and donated 113 items to the local Domestic/Sexual Assault Outreach Shelter.
In Mason City, the mayor appointed a task force to address sex offtender issues, and sex offender staff helped present information to the task force to educate the members prior to producing their final report. lowa currently has a 2,000-foot law that prohibits sex offenders from residing within 2,000 feet of a registered day care or school, but Mason City is more interested in restricting sex offenders from certain locations in the community, such as school bus stops, rather than where the they can live. The director of Parents United of North Central Iowa, Duffy Weitzel, has co-facilitated a SETS group with sex offender specialist staff and routinely participates in the Mason City Treatment Team staff meetings. The 2nd Judicial District continues a close relationship with Parents United, especially when there is potential for a family reunification. Weitzel said, "The coordination of services provides safety to the community and a high quality of services and accountability to the people we service." Mason City probation officers also have a strong relationship with law enforcement officers in the community and routinely ask for their assistance when issuing warrants and conducting home visits.
Continuity of Care
In 2002, the Department of Health Management and Policy at the University of Iowa reviewed the existing mental health and treatment needs of those individuals incarcerated by the Iowa Department of Corrections. Its final report noted, "There is a need for continuity of care through discharge/transfer planning and linkage to community mental health and substance abuse services and continuous aftercare that can have the effect of preventing relapse and recidivism." (2)
The district psychologists are fully aware of the need to have a seamless delivery of services for sex offenders making the transition from incarceration to parole and, therefore, requested access to Medical ICON. This electronic charting/filing system has centralized the charting of incarcerated clients' mental health needs, and now it can be accessed by the psychologists to help them make decisions about a client's treatment at the time of reentry. The University of Iowa report notes that community providers, at times, avoid the mentally ill because they are difficult to treat. In addition, separate funding streams at the local level make billing procedures and reimbursements frustrating to navigate, and there are few treatment centers for persons with co-occurring disorders. The first-hand knowledge that a majority of sex offenders (possibly 90 percent to 95 percent) suffer from clinical depression has not been lost on the staff, and the district is in the process of adding more community treatment coordinator positions. These staff members will focus on the clients' reentry needs and assist with facilitating sex offender treatment groups.
Since a majority of sex offender clients suffer from depression and substance abuse, they are assessed and referred to local mental health clinics for medication evaluations. Prior to the referral, the client may meet individually with a psychologist for additional emotional support while the sex offender is going through primary group treatment. The psychologists have found it useful and proactive to send written documentation of the assessment, with a release of information, to the local mental health provider so the information is shared at the time of the referral. This process enhances the professional relationship and the seamless delivery of services, as many clients are in need of drug therapy while participating in primary treatment groups. In most cases, the client will function at a higher level once the depression is treated and focus may then return to participation in the treatment group. It is important that these clients be evaluated for depression because research suggests that persons with co-occurring disorders are less likely to receive treatment in community mental health or substance abuse systems and are more likely to be seen as a failure. (3)
Staff are fortunate to attend the Annual Minnesota Association for the Treatment of Sexual Abusers (MnATSA) Conference where they receive training in management and supervision issues. These conferences enable 2nd Judicial District sex offender staff to earn certification hours for IBTSA; therefore, many staff try to free up their individual schedules to attend. Last year, 10 sex offender staff were able to attend the 10th Annual MnATSA Conference with the assistance of training budget funds.
Several staff were also able to attend a training on Aug. 10, 2007, titled "Sex Offender Treatment Group Facilitation." This day-long training was co-sponsored by IBTSA and the Rape Victim Advocacy Program, a local community-based agency in Iowa City. IBTSA also sponsors two separate preservice trainings to assist in developing the skills needed for working with sex offenders, which all sex offender staff complete prior to certification. Many other trainings have been sponsored by IBTSA and attend ed by staff in the last two years. Staff are even able to attain IBTSA certification/training hours while attending Iowa Corrections Association (ICA) conferences, which address a full range of the state's correctional issues.
The district psychologists are clinical members of the Association for the Treatment of Sexual Abusers (ATSA). This nonprofit, interdisciplinary organization was incorporated in 1984 by a small group of clinicians in Oregon who were working with sex offenders. ATSA is now an international organization with more than 2,000 member professionals working to prevent sexual assault through effective management of sex offenders. ATSA remains dedicated to principles that foster research and information exchange and further professional standards and practices in the field of sex offender evaluation and treatment. It has provided resources, including certification for both psychologists. ATSA's server list, an Internet network of providers sharing topics related to sex offender services, has been of immense benefit.
Based on projections by the Iowa Department of Corrections, additional staff will be needed to serve the growing number of clients receiving sex offender services. The district psychologists have currently developed an in-house training program and outlined an agenda that will assist staff in addressing topics for potential new facilitators to learn more about SOTP. IBTSA has certified the training hours for this two-part training, which will save the district money by allowing staff to attain certification/training hours in their own district. In addition, if IBTSA certifies trainers in the 2nd Judicial District to provide trainings in their own area, this could help reduce travel to other parts of the state for training and save budget dollars.
Finally, it appears that this anecdotal research has clearly shown how important it is to sustain existing community partnerships, cultivate new partnerships and continue to find strength in numbers. The author hopes this article will provide a framework for sex offender service providers when focusing on program development and consistency during a time of expanding services.
(1) Iowa Sex Offender Treatment and Supervision Task Force. 2007, Jan. 15. Report to the Iowa General Assembly. Des Moines, Iowa: Iowa Department of Human Rights, Division of Criminal and Juvenile Justice Planning.
(2) Anderson, Rachel, Marcia Ward and Barry Greene. 2002, April 10. An assessment of the mental health treatment needs and services within the Iowa Department of Corrections, final report. Iowa City, Iowa: University of Iowa, College of Public Health, Department of Health Management and Policy.
(3) Rock, M. 2001. Emerging issues with mentally ill offenders: Causes and social consequences. Administration and Policy in Mental Health, 28(3):165-180.
Michael A. Ryan, Ph.D., SOTP II, is a staff psychologist for Iowa's 2nd Judicial District Department of Correctional Services.
Gale Document Number:A179472529
Disclaimer:This information is not a tool for self-diagnosis or a substitr professional care.