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Tuesday, Aug. 30, 2016

New program breaks cycle for juvenile sexual offenders

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Kevin Hess
CHARLESTON -- A new program has been established for lower-risk juvenile sexual offenders in Mississippi and Scott counties.

"Simply put, the desired outcome of this program is to keep the community safe by giving the juvenile sex offender the knowledge and tools to keep him or her from re-offending," said Kevin Hess, juvenile officer.

"By breaking the cycle of abuse, we are not only helping the individual and the community in the present, but by treating the offender and his family we are making a substantial investment in the future by stopping sexual abuse that in many cases is a generational and cultural dysfunction," he said.

Hess said the program got its start as an idea about this time last year.

Mike Ellis, chief deputy juvenile officer for the 33rd Judicial Circuit Court, then recognized a need for specialized treatment for low- and medium-risk juvenile sexual offenders. There was no dedicated treatment available other than sending the juvenile to the Division of Youth Services for placement and treatment or to a distant and expensive residential program, he said.

That changed in March when the program began providing selected low- and medium-risk juvenile offenders in the two counties with access to the same program material and counseling they would receive if they were committed to a state in-patient program, according to Ellis.

Hess said there are many services that are intertwined in the different stages of the program but the program's most prominent aspects are:

* Assessment of the offender and his or her family, background, support system, health and education.

This provides the basic information from which a successful treatment strategy can be formulated.

* Identification of the offender's cycle of abuse through one-on-one offense-

specific interviewing and counseling.

During this stage, the goal is for the offender to begin to become personally involved with describing thoughts, feelings and activities which should lead to a better understanding of what happened to cause him or her to offend as well as how to escape the cycle at an early stage - a key element in preventing recidivism.

* Group counseling sessions help the offender take responsibility for offenses and share personal insight with others who are in a similar situation and at risk to re-offend.

Peer counseling, and to some extent a mild form of peer pressure, in a controlled therapeutic setting is central to acknowledging ownership of offending acts and regaining control of sexually abusive thoughts and actions.

* Individual counseling is key to identifying and addressing issues which are not conducive to group counseling.

It is also a time to build on lessons learned and allows feelings to be expressed that may not deal directly with the offending act but are of a nature which, unless corrected, may lead to further problems.

"I've got eight people in the program right now but I've had probably 15 that were referred," Hess said. Some offenders who are referred simply don't meet the criteria because they are too high of a risk or they don't acknowledge there's some sort of problem during assessment.

"If they don't admit there is a problem then the risk is pretty high they will re-offend," Hess said.

The program is still considered to be new but is already being seen as a success, according to Hess.

"So far with the people we have in the program, no one has re-offended, so that's a mark of success in itself," he said. "These people are in treatment and actively participating in their desire to get well, learning the things to keep them from re-offending."

In addition to providing services for lower-risk offenders, the program can also be used for returning offenders who were sent to the Division of Youth Services for placement and treatment "almost like a halfway house ... where they're still getting additional therapy and a little bit of monitoring," according to Hess, aiding them in "reintegrating back into their families, the community and everything."

Offenders in this category were previously sent home with no follow up, Hess said.

The duration of the program ranges varies with each individual from a minimum of six months to several years.

"Whenever I think they've learned everything they can learn and I believe they have learned it, I can discharge them from the program," Hess said.

To offer this program, Hess graduated from the University of Louisville's specialized eight-day, 65-classroom-hour intensive sexual offender course in December. He then completed a six-month practicum administered by the Dana Christensen, director of the Center for Family Resource Development.

After a comprehensive examination, Hess was certificated as a juvenile sexual offender counselor - the same certification program used by the Missouri Division of Youth Services to certify their program providers.

Ellis and Hess said the program was made possible by support from Circuit Court Judge David Dolan, Associate Circuit Court Judge T. Lynn Brown, Chief Juvenile Officer Bill Lawson and Court Administrator Barb Smith as well as donations from Charleston organizations and businesses.

"We had to get the money ourselves - it wasn't something that the state paid for, so we went all around town collecting donations," Hess said.