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
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
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