Sex offender rehab takes new tack

Emphasis on treatment, parole pays off, Canadian expert says


Since its introduction three years ago, Japan’s correctional program for sex offenders, modeled after Canada’s system, has made great strides, a leading expert on rehabilitation from Ontario says.

Still, the country must develop a stronger parole system if it wants to reduce the risk of recidivism, said William Marshall, professor emeritus of psychology and psychiatry at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario.

In fact, providing good supervision is also cost-effective compared with measures like the electronic monitoring of sex offenders, according to Marshall.

“The treatment is the crucial and the most important part, but the release in the community before sentencing expires with very good supervision — all that plays a part in reducing (further offenses). There is no question about that,” Marshall, 74, said in an interview with The Japan Times.

Marshall, also the director of Rockwood Psychological Services, a private organization that provides treatment for incarcerated sex offenders, was invited to Japan by the Justice Ministry to observe the program’s progress and advise officials.

In general, Japan’s correctional policy has shifted toward rehabilitation since the revised law on Penal Detention Facilities and Treatment Inmates and Detainees took effect in May 2006.

Sensational cases punctuate the need to ensure sex offenders aren’t repeat offenders.

The November 2004 murder of a 7-year-old girl in Nara Prefecture sparked a public outcry over the problem because the killer, Kaoru Kobayashi, who was 36 at the time of the crime, was an ex-con with a record of sex offenses. He is now on death row.

Lacking a unified policy on correction, it was up to each prison to develop and experiment with its own treatment programs until the introduction of the new program in 2006, according to the Justice Ministry. Until then, the law did not stipulate that rehabilitative education was mandatory.

Before setting up its new, nationwide sex offender rehabilitation program, Japan looked overseas for examples. In place for more than two decades, the Canadian model, which bases treatment on a scientific research-based approach known as cognitive behavioral therapy, has been adopted by many other countries and regions including Australia, Hong Kong and some European Union member states.

Marshall, who has been leading the field for more than three decades, explained that the cognitive behavioral programs help sex offenders control their emotions and change behaviors.

“These guys are very, very poor at relationships. They don’t know how to get close to others,” said Marshall, adding that they are also bad at controlling their emotions. “When people don’t regulate their emotions, they behave very poorly in all sorts of ways. They get drunk or they behave like maniacs, and unfortunately some of them commit offenses and some commit sex offenses.”

Group therapy is a large part of treatment. Under a program modified for Japan, at 18 prisons, teams of two correctional officers work with groups of eight inmates. Each group is made up of inmates judged at the same risk level as determined by an evaluation of various factors, including age and criminal record as well as their views of women or their ability to suppress their sexual impulses.

Therapy lasts for three to eight months of up to 64 100-minute sessions, according to the ministry. As of last March, more than 1,000 sex offenders had undergone the treatment.

As he did with many other countries, Marshall helped design the Japanese treatment program.

“I sat in a program towards the end for the guys in it, and I’d be delighted that they got to this stage at the end of the program. It’s never happened in other countries that I’ve been involved in that the change took place so rapidly,” he said after visiting several correctional facilities during his stay in Japan.

In 2004, the Canadian government implemented a nationwide sex offender registry. Under the system, offenders must register with local police wherever they live or move. In this way, investigators can keep track of where a former sex offender was when a crime occurs. If not near the scene of a crime, the ex-offender can be eliminated from the investigation.

Unlike similar registration systems in the United States, where information on the offender is made public, access to the registry is strictly regulated in Canada, Marshall said.

Nevertheless, Marshall is critical of registration, which he believes is ineffective, beyond giving the public the sense that their government is doing something to keep them safe.

He is even more critical of electronic monitoring of offenders. Research has shown this approach puts stress on the offenders and has a negative effect, he said. “When sex offenders are under stress in the community, chances of re-offending just goes up. It works against the effective management of these guys.”

He argues that money is better spent on good parole supervision. “That way, authorities can have a jurisdictional control over them once they are back in the community and you can make sure that they are not at risk. And they can be supervised very well,” he said.

Based on his experience in many countries, Marshall noted that the problems correction officials face are often identical. “You think that cultural differences make a huge difference, but it turns out in the same issues, they are exactly the same,” he said.

“I would like all countries to have decent programs dealing with crime,” Marshall said. “How you deal with them tells you the quality of that country.”