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Utah's flawed sex offender treatment program facing drastic reforms, officials say

Published May 17, 2017 8:52 pm

Urgent reforms • Corrections officials talk about major flaws found by the recent state audit of the program.
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Utah's sex offender treatment program is undergoing a massive overhaul after a recent performance audit slammed its poor management and flawed treatment approach, Utah Department of Corrections officials told lawmakers Wednesday.

"I'm the one who takes full responsibility for the unfavorable outcomes in this audit," Department of Corrections Executive Director Rollin Cook told the legislature's Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Interim Committee.

Lawmakers indicated the flaws in the program are especially concerning considering one-third of inmates in state prisons —about 2,500 — are sex offenders. About 300 inmates are in active treatment, officials said. In most cases, the Utah Board of Pardons and Parole requires therapy be completed before release from prison.

The audit showed sex offenders often stay in prison beyond their parole eligibility date due to a backlog of inmates waiting for treatment. The backlog is not only bad for inmates, but leads to rising costs for the prison system in future years.

In addition, treatment programs were not adaptable for various types of inmates — such as the developmentally disabled — and many protocols that were being used in the department were considered out of date, the report said.

The audit, completed by the state's Office of the Legislative Auditor General, said an underlying reason for the program issues was poor management and little oversight — a conclusion Cook agreed with.

"There was so much that was not going on and not being completed [in the treatment program]…that we're just getting things where they need to be," he said.

About a year ago the department hired Victor Kersey, a former psychologist and clinical direct of the sex offender program in Illinois, to serve as Utah's Institutional Programming Division Director. He was charged with reforming the treatment program, and has taken steps in that direction, he told the committee.

Kersey said rank-and-file employees in the treatment program have been receptive to recent management changes and shifts in job duties, saying many were "starving for leadership."

Under Kersey's direction, he said the program is developing new treatment programs for developmentally-disabled inmates and Spanish speakers, which didn't exist before. It is expanding when treatment services are offered, from five to seven days a week. Officials also scrapped its outdated system to gauge inmates sexual arousal in various subjects — the penile plethysmograph — because it is notoriously unreliable and intrusive.

Kersey also said the department was setting up a framework to conduct regular internal audits of its treatment programs' effectiveness — something that has almost never occurred in the past.

"I'm really happy we're getting [these reforms] rolling," said Rep. Eric Hutchings, R-Kearns. He said many inmates and their families have brought up their concerns about the sex offender program to him.

The committee requested that Cook and Kersey return and provide an update on the program's improvements in November.

"We need the chance to get this program right," Cook said. "We need to get this system running, and moving in the right direction."


Twitter: @lramseth






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