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Psychological treatment for sexual offenders is effective

UC research shows that psychological treatment for sexual offenders is effective

November 21, 2012

Research by University of Canterbury (UC) students has found that psychological treatment for sexual offenders is effective and offenders who show more improvement in treatment are less likely to re-offend, UC Professor Randolph Grace said today.

That treatment helped may seem a no-brainer but demonstrating a causal link between prison-based treatment programmes and reductions in re-offending was very challenging, he said. UC research has been the first in the world to demonstrate that specific treatment gains were linked to reductions in recidivism by sexual offenders, he said.

``There’s a lot of debate about the efficacy of psychological treatment for sexual offenders and a lot of technical issues why it’s a difficult question to resolve.’’

UC masters student, Lucy Moore, supervised by Professor Grace, has examined the criminal history and post-release outcomes for 428 sexual offenders who were treated at Rolleston Prison’s Kia Marama unit.

They were compared with a cohort of 1956 offenders who were also incarcerated for sexual offending but did not receive comparable treatment.

Professor Grace said results showed that the Kia Marama psychological treatment programme was associated with a 29 percent reduction in sexual re-offending (from 10 percent to 7.2 percent) and the reduction was statistically significant.

``There were also significant reductions in violent and general re-offending for the Kia Marama group. Research by PhD student Sarah Beggs found that offenders who showed more improvement at Kia Marama in terms of specific psychological factors targeted by the programme - such as reduction of pro-offending attitudes and increased capacity to regulate negative emotions - were less likely to reoffend.’’

This study was recently published in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology and was important because it was the first to demonstrate that specific treatment gains were linked to reductions in recidivism by sexual offenders.

The Kia Marama Unit was founded in 1989 through the efforts of the late UC Associate Professor Steve Hudson, who previously taught in the clinical psychology programme.

Over 800 offenders have completed the Kia Marama programme since its inception, which is recognised internationally for its excellence in developing new and effective psychological treatments for sexual offenders.

UC students continue to receive world-class training in clinical practice at Kia Marama and conduct innovative research projects, supervised by Professor Grace.

Although results of some overseas studies on the effectiveness of psychological treatment for sex offenders have been contentious, the recent UC research at Kia Marama has provided some of the strongest evidence yet that treatment does work.

This week marks 50 years since the first clinical psychology training programme began in New Zealand at the University of Canterbury. UC has graduated hundreds of students assisting New Zealanders with mental health issues, from depression, to ADHD, to treating sex offenders.

A two day clinical psychology seminar will be held on UC’s campus on November 23 and 24 to mark the first 50 years.

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