The Effectiveness of Treatment Programs for Adult Sex Offenders


It has been debated for years whether treatment programs can reduce recidivism rates of adult sex offenders.  The findings are mixed and the debate continues.  In a survey originally completed in 2007 and updated in September 2012, Dr. Brake reviewed 44 research studies published since 1984 which focused on treatment outcome as well as some published critiques and reviews of the studies.

Some studies show modest but significant effects of treatment in lowering recidivism while others fail to show such effects.  Many studies result in qualified or mixed findings.  Taken as a whole, the studies seem to suggest that there is not yet consistent evidence that relatively brief periods of treatment significantly reduce recidivism for most adult offenders although recent data are more promising.  In particular, recent studies show that recidivism may be lower for offenders who stay in treatment longer, are supervised following release, and whose individual treatment needs are accurately identified. 

It may be that many adult sex offenders would benefit from ongoing supervision until time-limited treatment programs can be shown to be more effective.  However, not all sex offenders will require intensive treatment and supervision and we believe that it is imperative that sex-offense-specific evaluations clearly identify, as best as possible, which do and which do not. 

To see and download the research review, click here (Adobe Acrobat required).  Please note, however, that several new and potentially important studies have appeared since this review was last updated in 2011 and are not included; the review cannot be considered as current although it may be updated again in the future. 

We are happy to receive comments and feedback about the review:  Contact Us.

Dr. Brake also conducted a separate survey of studies which reviewed recidivism and reoffense rates of adult sex offenders more generally; see Sex Offense Recidivism page on this website).