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The high cost of treating juvenile sex offenders

  • Photo illustration by Bob Ford of the TIMES NEWS
    Photo illustration by Bob Ford of the TIMES NEWS
Published September 21. 2013 09:00AM

Although the numbers of juvenile sex offenders remain low in Carbon County, the cost of their treatment has been steadily rising.

Carbon County last year spent $561,413 on court-ordered residential treatment programs for just six juvenile sex offenders.

The state reimburses the county 60 percent of the cost, and the parents of the sex offenders are also required to contribute, depending on their income.

But even with the reimbursements, the dollars add up.

"It's all taxpayer money, no matter how you look at it," commissioners' Chairman Wayne Nothstein said.

Three of the facilities currently housing juvenile sex offenders from Carbon County are Northwestern Academy's Safety, Empathy, Treatment (SET) program; Northwestern Academy's Self-Management and Responsible Treatment (SMART) program, and Abraxis Academy's Sexual Offender treatment program.

The SMART program costs $264.81 a day; the SET program is $275 a day, and Abraxis comes in at $312.50 a day.

The more secure the facility, the higher the cost, said Chief Juvenile Court officer James Dodson. The county tends to use privately run facilities because the state-run programs are much more expensive, he said.

Dodson said the numbers of children found guilty of sex offenses in the county's juvenile court have shown a slight increase, but remain low: two in 2008; one in 2009; two in 2010; three in 2011, and five in 2012.

Although the numbers of juvenile sex offenders in Carbon County rose slightly, data from the U.S. Department of Justice's Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention indicates an overall drop in juvenile sex offenders.

Nationally, 3,914 juveniles in residential placement in 2011 after being found guilty of sexual assault, according to OJJDP. That's down from 5,582 in 1997.

In Pennsylvania, there were 168 juvenile sex offenders in treatment facilities in 2011; in 1997, there were 195, according to OJJDP.

Treatment trends

Treatment of juvenile sex offenders has changed over the decades, and risen in cost.

"Early on, much of the treatment was 'borrowed' from the treatment of adults who have sex offended," said Portland State University Psychology Professor Keith L. Kaufman, Ph.D. "Over time, there has been a focus on tailoring treatment to the specific needs of children."

Legislation signed into law on Dec. 20, 2011, by Gov. Tom Corbett requires all sexually violent delinquent children committed for involuntary treatment to successfully complete, prior to discharge, a one-year period of involuntary outpatient treatment following inpatient treatment.

Why the treatment costs are rising remains unclear.

Not all juvenile sex offenders are sent to residential treatment, Dodson said. Depending on the severity of the offense and other factors, juvenile sex offenders may be required to undergo outpatient counseling. Each offender is evaluated, he said.

Most programs run from nine to 12 months, or from 12 to 15 months, Dodson said.

About kids who

abuse kids

While only a small number of juveniles are determined to have actually committed sexual offenses, there's been an uptick in reports of juvenile sexual offenses.

"Our (Children and Youth Services agency) director, Sallianne Newton, has told us that in the last 18 months, they have been averaging 12-18 reported abuses per month; about half of those are sexual in nature," Commissioner William O'Gurek said. "It's a serious problem."

Approximately one-third of sexual offenses against children are committed by teenagers. Sexual offenses against young children, under 12 years of age, are typically committed by boys between the ages of 12 to 15 years old, according to a 1999 study by H.N. Snyder and M. Sickmund for the federal Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, and by a 1987 study by G.E. Davis and H. Leitenberg for the Psychological Bulletin.

Further, teenage sex offenders are considered to be more responsive to treatment than adult sex offenders and do not appear to continue reoffending into adulthood, especially when provided with appropriate treatment, according to a 2000 study by the Association for the Treatment of Sexual Abusers.

A 2004 study by F. E. Zimring found that more than 90 percent of arrests of youth for sex offenses represent a one-time event that will never recur. Studies of youth repeatedly show low recidivism rates ranging from 3 percent to 4 percent.

Kaufman cited several studies in a recent interview with the TIMES NEWS.

Juvenile sex offenders don't fit any specific profile, he said.

"They are diverse in age, socio-economic status, living situation, what they are exposed to, and motivation to offend," Kaufman said.

The triggers for juvenile sexual offenses are many.

"Adolescence is the time of greatest sexual exploration," Kaufman said. "Children and teens brains are not completely formed (not until early to mid 20s), and one of the last areas to develop is the frontal lobes which control 'executive functioning.' In other words 'judgment in decision making'."

Further, "children and teens rarely get adequate accurate sexual eduction, and often learn about sexual behavior on their own. Studies have shown that parents would like to provide their children with appropriate sexual education, but feel ill equipped to do so. As a result, they delay their attempts or often don't try at all. Schools are often limited in what they can teach, and may even be restricted from providing much beyond information about anatomical 'plumbing'," Kaufman said.

He said that poor supervision of children and teens by adults, particularly those in pseudo-caretaking roles, such as baby-sitting, is also a factor.

Kaufman cited several reasons why some juveniles engage in sexual crimes, including being exposed to sexually inappropriate models of behavior in their household; as a reaction to viewing pornography and inappropriate sexual behaviors on the Internet or in media; by being directly engaged in sexually inappropriate behaviors by parents, family, members, neighbors, and others; as a reaction to having been abused; having a normal sexual interest that "crosses a line" and becomes inappropriate or abusive.

Kaufman said that a "small proportion of juveniles may exhibit a sexual attraction to children that leads to offending behavior.

The advent of technology, including smart phones and the Internet, has also led to juveniles being charged with sex crimes. "sexting" being one example.

"There is an increasing number of juveniles who are 'offending' by distributing naked or sexual photos or videos of themselves and their peers," Kaufman said, citing a study by Victor Vieth and Stephanie Smith.

Statutory offenses also account for many offenses.

"These may be circumstances that began with dating and became problematic when one member of the relationship turned 18 (depends on particular state statues) and perhaps there was a breakup, a pregnancy or parents found out about the relationship," he said.

Kaufman also said that "children and teens with developmental disabilities, particularly those with cognitive impairment are at greater risk for both being a victim and a perpetrator."

An ounce

of prevention

"It's critical that the responsibility for child and teen safety be squarely on the shoulders of adults," Kaufman said. "Children and young adolescents, in particular, are not in a position to be responsible for their own safety. Older teens can be taught how to become more responsible for their safety, but also need adult supervision and protection."

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