Introduction Agencies that provide support to individuals with developmental disabilities are being increasingly challenged to support sexual offenders who present at various levels of risk. There are limited financial resources, supports, and therapists available to address the long- term needs of an offender with a developmental disability.
The closure and phasing down of the large institutions, the lack of specialized residential treatment programs and the increasing discharge of formerly institutionalized sex offenders places demands on communities and clinicians who support persons with developmental disabilities.
Community based services are, at times, unprepared and ill-equipped to effectively support the offender with a developmental disability. This challenge represents a demand for creativity and the development of existing resources while maintaining the delicate balance between effective risk management and advocacy.
Responses to the Offences of Individuals with a Developmental Disability A number of individuals with developmental disabilities exist who have demonstrated a range of sexual offending behaviour and who continue to present this risk on an on-going basis.
Individuals with developmental disabilities who sexually offend are identified by various service providers and at various points. Identification occurs in a variety of ways: True prevalence rates of the numbers of offenders who are developmentally disabled as well as how many individuals with a developmental disability who offend are difficult to ascertain.
This issue further complicates the identification and subsequent treatment of the sex offender with a developmental disability. Assessment of risk by professionals who evaluate offenders may result in either under-estimation or over-estimation due to the evidence of a developmental disability. The criminal justice system seems generally perplexed as to what to do with the offender with a developmental disability. Treatment and the necessary long-term support of offenders with a developmental disability is often difficult and at times seemingly impossible.
Therapists specializing in offender assessment and treatment are often reluctant to support an offender with a developmental disability. Finding that you are suddenly needing to support a newly identified offender tests even the most seasoned front-line worker.
Agencies may find their philosophies challenged to the core and their budgets strained. The seemingly few existing specialized offender treatment programs are often unable to move graduates back into communities with adequate supports and resources, and supporting offenders in community settings can be costly.
What can develop in spite of the limits are creative and innovative methods of support using a coordinated team effort. There are many examples of agencies who support individuals with a developmental disability who have forged collaborative relationships in order to meet the needs of offenders while conserving community safety and maintaining client advocacy. Assessments completed on-site give a systems perspective, allowing the clinician to evaluate not only the individual but the strengths of the system in supporting him to not re-offend.
Interviews with parents and other family members, teachers, support workers and other key persons provides the foundation of team building which will maintain a strong system of support.
Risk assessments of individuals with a developmental disability must be creatively adapted to the abilities of each individual offender. As with all offenders, it always needs to be stressed that any level of risk may increase or decrease dependent on both internal and external changes and developments, and that risk needs to be evaluated on an on-going basis. Ideal treatment programs should provide sufficient structure and supervision to protect with as little restriction of liberty as necessary.
Similar to the assessment of risk of offenders with a developmental disability, treatment strategy adaptation is necessary and requires creativity and perseverance.
Agencies supporting offenders with developmental disabilities may find the use of contracts helpful in clarifying roles and responsibilities Hingsburger et al. Some individuals living in the community have participated in years of offender treatment, often living under some form of graduated level of supervision while others come to our attention presenting at high risk but no history of assessment or treatment.
The support team needs to be in agreement about what is being treated and how it is being treated. Follow up needs to be long term and treatment needs to be revised according to the risk presented at that time. Being labeled developmentally disabled can provide an individual with the support and services one requires including risk management and supervision. A non-labeled offender would likely walk away from the support and supervision but an offender with a disability is less likely to decline or refuse the support and supervision.
We can assume the vulnerability of this population at all levels. This may be due to dependence on the system, lack of assertiveness and not being aware of rights and choices or in some cases, care providers assuming they have the prerogative to enforce mandatory supervision. How many non-labeled offenders have access to the degrees of support and supervision afforded to the disabled population? Informed consent, from assessment through treatment and supervision, is required.
The need for advocacy at all levels of support to an offender with a developmental disability is highly stressed. For the individual displaying offensive and unacceptable behaviour, their right to treatment needs to be advocated for as well as the over-control and loss of freedom for someone who has earned and proved a degree of change.
Here, community outings are scheduled with unseen supervision. Similar to the treatment contract, supervision levels need to be evaluated and adjusted according to the risk presented, trust gained, and responsibility assumed. Parents and other family members, friends, church members, probation officers, front-line support workers, and therapists working in collaboration can all assist in the day to day support of an offender with a developmental disability.
Training should be available to those providing direct support and information needs to be shared amongst all team members. Goals for non-offending as well as life goals need to be established and known to the team members. Taking time out to celebrate another month, another 6 months or another year without another victim often becomes a team activity.
Expecting consistency amongst team members about what defines risk behaviour and the sharing of decisions around changes in supervision help the team members share the load of decision making and ultimate responsibility.
If when relapse occurs and there is finger pointing and blame, then the team is not working together and signifies a lack of co-ordination, communication and shared decision-making. The availability of therapists willing to support offenders with a developmental disability is slowly evolving.
Access to consultation and ideally on-sight consultation can be an effective support for communities with limited resources. Supporting offenders is hard work with limited rewards.
It is promising those professional associations and conferences at all levels are becoming more inclusive of the issues facing offenders with a developmental disability. The growing formal and informal networks of clinicians willing to share their successes and failures is helping to develop our ability to support this challenging group.
Clinical features and offense behaviour of mentally retarded sex offenders: A review of research. A training methodology for establishing reliable self-monitoring with the sex offender who is developmentally disabled. The Habilitative Mental Healthcare Newsletter, 13, Are sex offenders treatable? Psychiatric Services, 50, The Habilitative Mental Healthcare Newsletter, 10, Community access for sex offenders with developmental disabilities: A process for dealing with trust, risk and responsibility.
The Habilitative Mental Healthcare Newsletter. Assessment of risk in criminal offenders with mental retardation. Addressing the needs of developmentally delayed sex offenders.