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The Effectiveness of Prison-Based Sex Offender Treatment Program in Korea
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December 01, 2020


The psychological treatment programs for sex offenders in Korean correctional facilities have been run in basic, advanced and intensive courses depending on the offenders’ risk of recidivism and the court-ordered hours to attend the program. The basic course is designed for sex offenders with low risk of recidivism, and who are ordered to attend a hundred hour or less psychotherapy program. The hundred hour-program is offered in all correctional facilities. The advanced course is designed for sex offenders with medium risk of recidivism and who are ordered to attend two hundred hours or less psychotherapy program. The two hundred hour-program is offered in some correctional facilities (facilities designated as advanced). Lastly, the intensive course is for sex offenders with high risk of recidivism and who are ordered to attend more than two hundred hours psychotherapy program. This program is offered as a three hundred hour-course in the correctional facilities where the Psychological Treatment Center is set up. Sex offenders who are ordered by the court to complete the program while being admitted to the correctional facilities are subject to the Classification & Examination Division's examination of the possibility of recidivism. In the first part of the examination, static assessment(STATIC-99R, HAGSOR-S) is, and in the second part, dynamic assessment(HAGSOR-total) is carried out respectively, and the courses are decided based on the offenders' total scores of the two parts. In detail, whether an offender should be put into the basic, advanced or intensive course is determined first by the offender's score from the static factor assessment in the first part, and if the offender's HAGSOR-S score is nine or higher and STATIC-99R score is six or higher, he/she is required to take the intensive assessment (second part's dynamic assessment) further to determine the placement in either advanced or intensive course based on his/her HAGSOR-total score. Although psychological treatment for sex offenders in the correctional facilities began to be regularized in 2012, it was only after the second half of 2014 when the three-step classification based on the risk assessment of recidivism and the module type program which covered the criminogenic factors were both perfected. Because the psychotherapy program established in the second half of 2014 has been used continuously to the present without any major change, this study selected the sex offenders who completed the psychotherapy program in that period as the experimental, or treatment group in order to evaluate the effectiveness of the program. As of February 2020, the number of sex offenders who completed either the basic, advanced or intensive course and were discharged from prison since the second half of 2014 were 6,028. The follow up period after discharge from prison was set for maximum five years from January 2015 to February 2020. Initially, the control group as opposed to the treatment group was selected among the people with the same condition from 2014, but the sampling number included in the non-treatment group was insufficient as most sex offenders who were actually sentenced to imprisonment were ordered by the court to complete the psychological treatment program as well. Following the advice of a psychometrician that the sampling numbers of two groups should meet at least 2:8 ratio in order to ensure the validity of the statistics analysis, this study expanded the target subjects of the control group into the previous years, however the follow-up period was set as same with the treatment group, i.e., from 2015. As a result, 1,586 as the number of sex offenders Abstract 127 were included in the non-treatment group1). Having defined the numbers of subjects in each of the experimental group and the control group, this study retrieved the parameter values set for each subject from the computer system with the help of relevant agencies. Before delving into the detailed analysis on the explanatory variables, this study checked the difference of both demographic and criminal characteristics between the ‘treatment group’ and the ‘control group’. The difference between the two had statistical significance because of the sample size, but no substantial difference was observed in the further confirmational analysis. Nevertheless, in consideration of their statistical significance, this study input these variables as control variables to analyze the effect of psychological treatment in the further analysis. First, this study observed that the variance in the treatment program (difference between the pre and post-treatment psychometric scores) accorded to the post-treatment direction it predicted, and thus concluded that the correctional treatment program worked effectively. In particular, the most significant effect related to sexual violence was noted in Rape Myth Scale and Child Molestation. Furthermore, based on the fact that the self-esteem scale, in addition to the one measuring subjective wellbeing, displayed relatively larger effect compared to other scales, a conclusion may be drawn that the psychotherapy program made a positive influence to the target group in their perception of themselves and their own, in general. At the same time, it may be suggested that some parts related to certain scales need improvement in the treatment course. For instance, improvement made in the anger expression scale was the lowest among the entire subscales, and the scores of the anger scale against women and the coping scale yielded relatively 1) Non-treatment group includes people who never received the psychotherapy for sex offenders either as their term of imprisonment expired or due to their voluntary refusal, or people who have only partially participated in the treatment. This manner to compose the non-treatment group is frequently used in other studies conducted abroad. low effect size, despite the larger effect size in Rape Myth Scale and Child Molestation directly related to sexual offences. Moreover, Interpersonal Reactivity Index which measures the degree of empathy toward others, too, yielded a lower effect size. Therefore, it appears that an effort to improve general perception about women and increase empathic ability, in addition to the cognition of sexual violence, is necessary. In the meantime, the different patterns found in the subdivided analysis of the group implied that the treatment focus should be varied depending on the courses. For instance, the fact that the subscale related to anger expression scale was not significant in the advanced and intensive course groups suggests that an in-depth treatment is necessary for the adverse effect of anger expression in the relevant group. Of the three groups, only the advanced group displayed an insignificant score in sexual coping scale, and its effect size of Child Molestation was also relatively lower than the basic and intensive groups. Therefore, it may be necessary to consider a more in-depth treatment for the advanced group, concerning child sexual offences. This study then reviewed the influence of the psychological treatment program for sex offenders on REPI (Recidivism Prediction Index), or the security and treatment level of the offenders. The group that received the psychological treatment tended to display lower REPI scores than the control group and the difference was statistically significant. Based on this finding, it was concluded that the final REPI level was a valid indication to predict recidivism after discharge from prison, and the psychotherapy program lowered the REPI level of the offenders. The security and treatment level, too, tended to be lower in the group that received the treatment. Next, this study analyzed the influence of the psychotherapy on recidivism rate after discharge from prison, as the key part of the analysis. The variables which were mentioned earlier to be likely to affect reoffending, namely wearing ‘electronic device’, pre ‘self-esteem’ score, pre ‘child molestation’ score, and ‘Static-99 R-total’ were put into the examination as control variables. The study compared the control group’s hazards of recidivism, that is, the recidivism hazard, with that of treatment group being the reference group, and found that under the same control variance, the control group’s recidivism hazard was 1.29 times higher than that of the treatment group. It indicates that when the order of electronic device, pre-score of self-esteem, child molestation pre-score, Static-99R total are controlled by average, the recidivism hazard is higher in the control group than the treatment group by 29%, which allows a further interpretation that psychological treatment program for sex offenders in prison has a positive impact on the prevention of repeat crime. To mention another effect of the control variable, the hazards of recidivism were 25% lower when sex offenders wearing electronic device received the psychological treatment under the controlled scores of three scales. This can be interpreted that if the variables affecting recidivism are the same, wearing electronic device is substantively more effective in prevention of recidivism. In assessing the recidivism rate by the victim’s age group, the reference group was set as “adult” population which accounted for the majority. Compared to the adult victim group as the reference group, the recidivism hazard decreased by 26% in the crime against youth, and by 38% in the crime against child. The group that committed a crime against unspecified victims, such as public indecency, did not show statistically significant differences than the adult victim group, but their recidivism hazard tended to be higher. To sum up, based on the overall analysis of various factors, including the longitudinal analysis of recidivism follow-up regarding the treatment effect of psychological program for sex offenders, in-depth interview of the inmates who received the treatment, and the experts’ opinions such as policy makers of the Correctional Service, the expected effect of this study and some suggestions for improvement have been drawn as follows. In order to evaluate the effectiveness of the current psychological treatment program which has been run since the second half of 2014, this study acquired the recidivism data and conducted follow-up monitoring after the target population’s discharge from prison. As a result, the study found that sex offenders who completed the program displayed lower recidivism rate than those who did not receive the program by 30%, approximately. This result is considerably similar to the reduction rate of recidivism that has been reported by the meta-analysis performed in Western countries earlier. Whether the recidivism rate is reduced if the psychological treatment is offered to a certain risk group, or, the interaction between the risk group and the treatment has not been proven. In other words, when comparing a specific group among the basic, advanced and intensive courses to the control group, no clear sign of decreasing or increasing recidivism rate was observed. This can be interpreted that regardless of the stage of courses among the basic, advanced, and intensive, the treatment group generally yielded reduced recidivism rates than the control group. Meanwhile, this study did not find the psychotherapy’s reduction effect on recidivism of sexual crimes. In fact, among the previous studies, both domestic and abroad, cases have been reported that despite the overall reduction effect on recidivism, psychological treatment do not yield statistical significance when only sexual crimes were analyzed. This phenomenon can be interpreted in two possible ways: the first is that the statistical difference is not shown because the base rate of sexual crimes is low, and second is that despite the reduction effect of the current psychotherapy program, the program might have minimal effect on the sexual crimes. To solve this, review of the effectiveness of the sex offense-related module used in the current program might be needed. This study has also confirmed that STATIC-99R, an actuarial assessment. instrument currently used by the Correctional Service, produces a proper prediction of the differences in recidivism rates. In other words, both in the treatment group and the control group, repeat crime was committed more frequently in the high risk groups than the medium or low risk group. Based on these results, this study has concluded that the treatment level depending on the level of risk, which was suggested by the existing RNR (Risk-Need-Responsivity) theory, is appropriate in both theoretical and practical aspects. However, of the results from the meta-analysis which was the basis of RNR theory, the tendency of highest reduction rate of recidivism in the high risk treatment group (intensive course) has not been confirmed in this study. A further study seems to be necessary to re-examine whether selecting the high risk group at the intensive course classification is properly conducted, and to find out a solution to offer a more individualized program to high risk groups. Furthermore, this study could infer that “the ability and style of the therapists” who deliver the content of the programs through in-depth interview is the key element to make a significant difference, and confirms that offenders display a far stronger will to control their behavior when therapists are available to them through mentoring program, etc., even after the offenders’ discharge from prison. Therefore, the therapists’ or counselors’ role in the psychotherapy program can never be emphasized too much, and it is of great importance that the correctional facility system should nurture the quality and expertise of the therapist and counselors through a reasonable personnel management for correctional administration. The Correctional Service has expanded the function of psychotherapy through reorganization of its structure by setting up psychological treatment divisions across the nation. Although expansion of the psychological treatment divisions has the positive function to remind people of the importance of the psychotherapy, it raises some concerns in terms of manpower utilization. In particular, the therapists not only perform more programs than ever before due to rapidly increasing treatment cases these days, but also provide counseling service to inmates-related issues in the facilities, resulting in significant lack of time to attend to the task of case conceptualization for individual reformation of the inmates. There is also the risk of harming their expertise as therapist when they are assigned to other department or division and required to conduct tasks that are not related to psychological treatment, resulting in the collapse of morale in themselves. Through the in-depth interview with the inmates, this study has witnessed that many sex offenders express their wish to ‘change their thoughts, understand themselves, adjust the coping manner facing stress, and reflect themselves’ and focus on their own issues. Moreover, a considerable number of inmates pointed out that the real benefits of psychological treatment were ‘to find out their own issues and change themselves through the psychological treatment’, rather than to receive external benefits, such as opportunity to meet family or obtaining parole. The psychological treatment program for sex offenders offered currently in groups seems to make a certain contribution to the offenders in solving their own issues through the program module to improve self-understanding or interpersonal skill, etc. Nevertheless, considering the group therapy format and the number of inmates who are qualified to the treatment, the time to provide individual attention may not be sufficient. Therefore, to find out and improve a way to provide a better individual counseling which focuses on each inmate should be considered. In the end, in order to draw a meaningful change in each inmate, the content of the treatment should be well delivered and then be internalized by each individual. How well the program manual is prepared, without the therapist’s ability to convey the content to the inmates in consideration of the individual needs of the latter, it can be simply a unilateral treatment. In other words, to make a two-way delivery of the treatment, case conceptualization for each inmate should be performed in parallel and only when this is possible, sex offenders who receive the treatment can internalize and individualize what they learn as ‘their own stories.’ Given that, it is desirable to find out a more active way to improve case conceptualization and individual counseling which could dispel the subject inmates’ distorted perceptions and maladjustment mechanism. Finally, in order to maintain the benefits of the treatment obtained inside the correctional facilities, connection with the community-based treatment is critical. Therefore, the correctional facilities should record the therapists’ evaluations on the individual inmates in the computer system, along with the specialized record concerning the result of psychotherapy offered in the facility, and seek a way to transfer to relevant community agencies(e.g., probation office) where the inmates would be managed in the community. Computerization and document sharing concerning the information about the correctional process and protection of inmates are the first step to build a scientific database and to achieve advanced correctional administration by which continuous management of criminal offenders is possible. Given that multidisciplinary and multi-agency cooperaton is required for more individualized management of criminal offenders, a scientific database should be constructed so that monitoring facilities may share the necessary information among themselves. Since, once the database is constructed, it may not only be used as a valid source for other assessment researches for specific systems, in addition to offender management, but also be expanded as big data which can predict the recidivism pattern or the time of reoffending of an offender, it would be desirable for the Correctional Service to set up a long-term road map and persistently follow the subject.

Jeongsook Yoon

Crime Trends&Analysis, Public Safety and Crime Prevention, Transnational Organized Crime

Senior Research Fellow

Jeongsook Yoon's picture

Research Interest (Major)

Criminal Psychology, Sex Crime, Violent Crime, Treatment of Offenders

Education/Professional Experience

M.Ed in Human Development and Psychology, Harvard University

Ph.d in Psychology, Brandeis University

Director of International Cooperation Division, KIC

Editor-in-Chief, International Journal of Criminal Justice

Member of Advisory Committee, Bureau of Correction, Ministry of Justice of Korea

Member of Advisory Committee, Korean Association of Criminal Justice

Report List

Development of Treatment Program for Child Abuse Perpetrators- Investigation of the their Characteristics and Development of Basic Manuals -

Annual Report on UN• International Cooperation and Research for Crime Prevention (XVI)

Violent offending with Unspecified Motivation toward Strangers

Treating Sexual Offenders(Ⅱ): Evaluation of the effectiveness of sex offender treatment programs in correctional facilities

Treating Unmotivated Crime Offenders: Criminogenic Factors and Intervention Strategies

Treating Sexual Offenders(Ⅲ)-Strengthening Aftercare of Treatment Completers in Korea-

Strenghtening the Application of Forensic Science in Korean Criminal Justice System(Ⅵ)

Social Safety Net Reinforcement: Reducing and Preventing Domestic Violence

Yearly Report on UN·International Cooperation and Research for Crime Prevention(XV)

Grooming in the Sexual Abuse of Children and Future Policy Responses

Law Education Program for Establishment of Rule of Law (Ⅱ) : A Study on the Development of Legal Education Program for North Korean Refugees

Treating Sexual Offenders -An Examination of Korean Sex Offender Treatment Programs-

Treating Sexual Offenders Ⅰ: Development of K-MIDSA and Sex Offender Treatment Manuals(Ⅰ)

Sexual Harrassment in the Workplace and Countermeasures

The Effectiveness of Prison-Based Sex Offender Treatment Program in Korea

Minyoung Kim

Public Safety and Crime Prevention, Crime Trends&Analysis

Research Fellow

Minyoung Kim's picture

Research Interest (Major)

Public policy, Social policy

Report List

System and Management of Korean Criminal Justice (Ⅰ): Budget and Performance

Korean Crime Victim Survey(Ⅹ) - An Experimental Study on Survey Methodological Improvements -

The Effectiveness of Prison-Based Sex Offender Treatment Program in Korea

Illegal Underground Economy of Organized Crime and Policy Implication(Ⅱ) - Empirical Analysis on Traditional Sources of Income

Korean Crime Victim Survey in 2018

Taehun Lee

Taehun Lee's picture

Report List

Korean Institute of Criminology Official Video - image

Korean Institute of Criminology Official Video

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