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18 Behav. Sci. & L. 1 (2000)

handle is hein.journals/bsclw18 and id is 1 raw text is: 


Behavioral Sciences and the Law
Behav. Sci. Law 18: 1-3 (2000)


                       Introduction to this Issue:

                       Sex Offenders Part One

                       Alan R. Felthous, M.D.,
                       and Leonore Simon, Ph.D.


Fifteen years ago a special issue of Behavioral Sciences and the Law was devoted to
the issue of sex offenders. James L. Cavanaugh, Jr., M.D., and Richard Rogers,
Ph.D., editors of that special issue, noted the apparent increase in sex offenses in
the United States, the abolition of most sexual psychopath laws, and the trend to
handle sexual offenders through the criminal justice system by means of incarcera-
tion (Cavanaugh & Rogers, 1985). Although psychotherapeutic approaches were
controversial, the editors of that issue viewed research in this area as being
increasingly recognized as legitimate.
  In the intervening years little was changed, yet much was changed. Popular
concerns about sex offenders persist, society continues to struggle with how best to
handle sex offenders, and it seems any serious approach to the problem invariably
engenders controversy. Yet, who in 1985 would have guessed that the 1990s
would bring sexual predator laws to Arizona, California, Kansas, North Dakota,
Washington, and Wisconsin; chemical castration to California; and voluntary
surgical castration to Texas?
  The American Psychiatric Association's task force on dangerous sex offenders
observes that most sex offenders do not have a paraphilic disorder for which
psychopathological understanding and therapeutic approaches are appropriate
(Zonana et al., 1999). For those sex offenders who have a sexual paraphilia and who
desire treatment, the task force recommends making appropriate treatment
available, but not through statutory or judicial coercion. Societal concerns about
public safety can be addressed via customary sentencing alternatives (p. 176) but
should not be appeased by the civil commitment of dangerous sex offenders. The
other side of the punishment-treatment dilemma is, however, that extended
sentencing, regardless how structured, would likely result in costly carceral care for
many offenders who are not at high risk for reoffending. As the task force
remarked, civil commitment legislation was in part a response to the recent trend
towards fixed sentences with occasional mandatory release of a dangerous offender
who then commits a horrible sex offense; now the task force raises the possibility of
resurrecting controversial indeterminate sentencing at least for repeat sex
offenders (p. 35).
  Substantial advances have been made, through research, in identifying strengths
and shortcomings of various therapeutic approaches, yet far more research is
needed regarding, for example, the efficacy of SSRIs. (Selective serotonin reuptake
inhibitors, marketed as antidepressants, have been used for impulse control
generally and for control of sexual impulses in paraphilias.) Of greater import,
however, are the considerable changes in social policies, with legislatures turning to


Copyright ( 2000 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

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