Rehab programme in prison vital for sex offenders

We are writing in reference to an article titled “Rehab programmes for child sex offenders not doable, says criminologist”, dated Oct 11, 2018.

As criminologists, we would be remiss in not rectifying that claim. We owe it not only to the field of criminology, but also victims of sex-related crimes and their family members, and the hardworking prison personnel. Many people, experts and so-called experts may not be aware that the Malaysian Prison Department has in fact been rehabilitating sex offenders, including child predators, since 2006.

Geshina Ayu Mat Saat and Prof Mat Saat were directly involved in developing the rehab programme for incarcerated sex offenders. They also trained prison personnel in all aspects of the programme between 2006 and 2009.

Monitoring of sex offenders’ recidivism rates post-rehab has been in force since 2008, when the first group of rehabilitated sex offenders re-joined society. As at the end of 2017, no recidivism, or repeat offending, has been recorded by the Malaysian Prison Department for those who had completed the rehab programme. We are unsure of the situation for 2018.

The rehab programme starts with a comprehensive assessment that covers various psychosocial factors and criminogenic needs. Specific assessments are used and the results of those assessments are deliberated in order to strategise and plan for individualised rehab for every single sex offender. The programme is not generic to all offenders, and neither is it generic to all types of sex offenders.

Over the years, other local experts and professionals have contributed towards improving this programme. Yes, there are experts outside of Malaysia and yes, some of the results of their efforts were unsuccessful, but to negate their work is not commendable. We now know what won’t work, and that has value in itself. These researchers and professionals have tried and are still continuing in their efforts to make society safe from sex predators.

In addition, the application of research findings from outside Malaysia needs to be cautioned. What may work in other countries may not work in Malaysia. Taking into consideration diverse social norms and cultural values, as well as the complexity of sex offending; local solutions are needed for local phenomenon. Malaysia has experts in sexology, criminology, clinical psychology, social psychology, psychiatry, delinquency, and in many other fields relevant to sex offending, victimisation, and rehabilitation.

We are sure they are willing to contribute their knowledge and skills to improve the existing rehabilitation programme or develop a specialised rehab programme for child sex offenders. Due to periodic or generational changes, it is important to continuously conduct academic and applied research to better understand the psycho-criminogenic elements that form the nature, character, and disposition of sex offenders who prey on children.

Yes, it is tedious. And yes, the Department of Prisons could do with more manpower. Fortunately, several years ago, the department opened positions for people with psychology degrees to address this problem. The department could also open positions for those with specialisations in criminology and penology.

The sentencing of sex offenders varies and can be up to 20 years or more for a single offence. The rehab programme takes about two years to complete. As such, there is more than enough time for sex offenders to complete the programme.

As another level of protection and proactive crime prevention, before sex offenders re-enter society, they are assessed for risk of re-offending. The eventual scores can predict the likelihood of re-offending up to 10 years after prison release. If the scores are high, the recommendation to ‘not release’ is made and the nearest police station where the offender will stay in is informed. This means if the rehabilitated person obtains a low score, which is often the case; he no longer poses a danger to society. In addition, sex offenders are not given the possibility of parole.

On whether the programmes require “a colossal amount of money”, only those directly involved in the financial aspects of the rehab programme know. Already in place are personnel with academic qualifications in various psychology fields, psychiatry, and sociology. There are periodic in-house training for personnel to keep their knowledge and skills current. Some are also sent to further their studies locally and abroad. The Malaysian Prison Department monitors the quality and effectiveness of the programme annually. If there is a need, the programme is refined.

It is short-sighted to lock up sex offenders and hope for the best. Unless they die, these convicted sex offenders will someday be released back to society. They are, and will be, among us. Rehabilitation in prison is therefore vital to reduce the likelihood of reoffending or recidivism and to reduce risks of victimisation.

We hope that these explanations based on our genuine work with offenders, particularly incarcerated sexual offenders make things clear. There is a rehab programme already in place. We have the professionals. It is working.

The issue of real concern is that of sex predators that have not been caught or have not been brought to justice.

If victims (or their family members) do not make reports, investigations cannot be carried out. When reports are made, in many instances the reports are later retracted and the sex predator is free to prey again.

Geshina Ayu Mat Saat and Mohammad Rahim Kamaluddin are criminologists.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.