Reentry experiences of sex offenders: A phenomenological study
TABLE OF CONTENTS Page DEDICATION iii ABSTRACT iv ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS vi TABLE OF CONTENTS viii CHAPTER I INTRODUCTION 1 Inspiration for the Study and Researcher Perspective 8 Statement of the Problem 11 Purpose and Significance of the Study 14 Significance of Study 16 Theoretical Framework 17 Research Question 22 Definition of Terms 23 Study Limitations and Delimitations 24 Assumptions 26 Ethical Considerations 26 Chapter Summary 28 II REVIEW OF THE RELEVANT LITERATURE 29 Status of the Research 29 The Impacts of Sexual Assaults 31 The Public Reaction to Sexual Assaults 34 The Legislature Response to Sexual Assaults 35 viii
The Criminal Justice Response to Sexual Assaults 36 Etiology of Sexual Deviant Behavior and Treatment 38 Selected Theories Related to the Etiology of Sexual Assaults 40 Current Etiology Theories 41 Treatment Models and Treatment Effectiveness 57 Reentry of Sex Offenders 59 Chapter Summary 66 III METHODOLOGY 68 Conceptual Framework 69 Phenomenological Procedures 70 Methods of Preparation 71 Method of Data Collection 74 Methods of Organizing and Analyzing Data 76 Trustworthiness and Truthfulness 79 Chapter Summary 82 IV RESULTS 83 Demographic Profiles 84 Qualitative Results 88 Summary/Synthesis 108 V SUMMARY AND CONCLUSIONS 113 Implications 113 Personal Reflections 122 Conclusion 124 REFERENCES 125 IX
APPENDIXES 147 VITA 152 x
1 CHAPTER I INTRODUCTION Released sex offenders face enormous barriers during their reentry process. In addition to their status as ex-convicts, they face sex offender stigma, public indignation, and a number of federal, state, and city laws and ordinances that impact every aspect of their reentry and reintegration into society. Other barriers include negative public sentiments about sex offenders, myths and misperceptions about sex offenders, highly publicized cases involving sex crimes, limited housing and placement options, residency restrictions, notification laws, and sex offenders' registration (La Fond, 2005; Levenson & Cotter, 2005a, 2005b; Severance, 2007). The collective impact of these issues creates the social stigma that casts out sex offenders from the rest of society. Douard and Schultz (2008) described the outcasting by society as scapegoating that carries social stigma. Stigma comes from the Greek word Stigmata, which means "mark of shame or discredit; a stain, or an identifying mark or characteristic" (Smith & Jones, 1998, p. 1151). Goffman (1963) stated that "stigma refers to an attribute that is deeply discrediting" (p. 3), and involves "a special kind of relationship between attribute and stereotype" (p. 4). Goffman also posited that stigma can be so strong that it becomes a master status, which refers to the core identifying attribute of the person that eclipses all other qualities that the person may possess. In essence, the sex offender stigma is what Goffman termed discreditable; because any positive attributes of the sex offenders are not readily known or perceived by the public. Additionally, labeling and stigma researchers, who have studied the core feature of a stigmatized person, suggested that stigma is an attribute that conveys a devalued
2 social identity within a particular context (Crocker, Major, & Steele, 1998; Goffman 1963; Miller & Kaiser, 2001). The sex offender stigma can be described similarly in that it has become a master status that overrides all other statuses in determining how others respond to them, regardless of any other positive attributes that a sex offender may have. The implication of the sex offender stigma as a master status for sex offenders can be far reaching because, inter alia, it leads to the creation of a deviant sexually oriented subculture, crime, recidivism, that invariably threatens public safety. The sex offender stigma as a master status groups all sex offenders into one category without acknowledging the extreme complexity of the sexual offending behavior and the heterogeneity of the sex offenders' population. Douard and Schultz (2008) and Leversee (2007) indicated that sex offenders constitute a very heterogeneous group in many ways, including career, social, and economic status, and that the social stigma as a master status erases any positive attribute that they may have and turn them into monsters. The stigmatization of sex offenders derives from labeling theory. According to Tannenbaum (1938), labeling a person has dire consequences because "the person becomes the thing he is described as being.. .The way out is through a refusal to dramatize the evil" (p. 20). Other labeling theorists (Becker, 1963; Cohen, 1955) believed there is a strong link between labeling and the creation of deviant subculture that I consider to be similar to the impact of the current registration and community notification laws, and residency restriction ordinances. This subculture formation is, in part, a result of the fact that society creates similar types of outcasts, including sex offenders, who share a common fate and face the same problems. Invariably, these
outcasts come together and create a deviant subculture that provides social support for their deviant behavior. This study focused on describing the reentry experiences of socially stigmatized sex offenders and what the experiences mean to them. I used the tradition of the transcendental/psychological phenomenology as defined by Moustakas (1994). The stigmatization of sex offenders, coupled with the media portrayal of sex crimes, the public demands for public safety, and the response of lawmakers at federal, state, and city levels to incidents of sexual assaults, has generated heated debate and has been described as ineffective in preventing recidivism, with unintended, collateral consequences (La Fond, 2005). According to La Fond, sex offenders are regarded as America's most hated public enemy because people believe they are lifelong predators who will seek out new victims as long as they live. Other researchers believe that the label of sex offender invokes a sense of moral panic in the public, causing sex offenders to be described as monsters (Douard & Schultz, 2008). Douard and Schultz also believe that the use of the monster label is emblematic because it serves the purpose of securing social discipline against sex offenders. Additionally, researchers described sexual violence as a social problem that inspires immense public fear and wrath in American society (Levenson, Zgoba, & Tewksbury, 2007). Media reports of senseless new crimes committed by sex offenders released from prison against innocent children underscore the devastations on society of the recidivism of even a single sex offender and tend to justify the public outrage and demands that sex offenders should be locked up for good (La Fond, 2005). The stories about Jesse Timmendequas, a convicted sex offender, who killed young Magan Kanka in
4 New Jersey, and Early Shriner, who raped and sexually mutilated a young boy in Tacoma, Washington, are ready examples. The story about nine-year-old Jessica Lunsford, abducted from her home in Florida, raped, and buried alive by a next-door neighbor, who had been twice convicted of molesting children is another example. Society has thus become justifiably enraged by sexual crimes and has demanded that the government take whatever action is necessary to protect the public from threats of sexual assaults and victimization by released sex offenders. Scheingold and Olson (1999) noted that victims' advocates have mobilized the public to demand government action to deal effectively with sex offenders, and that politicians have responded by enacting laws aimed at preventing recidivism. As a result, more laws have been passed, more apprehensions have been made, leading to more convictions and incarcerations of sexual offenders (La Fond, 2005). However, La Fond pointed out that even though some of the laws enacted are good and has led to a significant reduction in incidents of sexual assault, the overall public policy towards the problem of sexual assaults represents a quick-fix reaction to unusual cases of sex crimes instead of a well crafted response to the problem. For two decades, between 1970 and 1990, the legislature and criminal justice systems responded with new laws, tough sanctions, and longer sentences against sex offenders aimed at ensuring public safety (La Fond, 2005; Petersilia, 2000). Federal law and the laws of all 50 states now require adults and juveniles convicted of specific crimes involving sexual conduct to register with law enforcement regardless of whether the offense involved children (Human Rights Watch, 2007). Community notification laws, residence restriction laws, civil commitment laws, and castration laws are adopted
5 throughout the country to engender effective systems of classifying levels of risk for, and management of released sex offenders (La Fond2005; Petersilia, 2000). Since 1990, 17 states, including Texas, have also enacted civil commitment laws for sexual predators (Harris, 2005). These laws are aimed at predictions of future propensity for sexual violence, using both static and dynamic risk instruments. The Texas Rehabilitation and Reentry Programs division has implemented a state mandated legislation, the Dynamic Risk Assessment in an effort to assess the risk level of sex offenders prior to their release into communities using a combination of instruments, including Static-99 (Hanson & Thornton, 1999), the Hare Psychopathic Checklist- Revised (Hare, 1991) and Level of Service Inventor-Revised (Andrews & Bonta, 2001). However, as La Fond (2005) indicated, the law reform fails to capture the essence of the problem and represents a quick-fix solution that is not carefully thought out, has not addressed the problem of sexual assaults, but has several collateral consequences. As he stated: Horrible and high-profile sex crimes committed by sex offenders against young children captured the public's attention and spawn firestorms for law reform that swept the nation. Americans wanted quick, sure-fire solutions to very complex public policy issues. Public anger was not conducive to thoughtful deliberation on how best to improve community protection against sexual violence, and the truth, what we know about sex offending [is still] incomplete. Too often, agitation for law reform and the process of law reform assumed that these [high profile] cases were typical cases, (p. 231)
La Fond also pointed out that one of the results of the law reform blitzes has been longer sentences for sex offenders without adequate rehabilitation of offenders for reentry and reintegration into society. La Fond further indicated that one obvious result of sex offender restrictive laws, perhaps unintended, is the stigmatization of sex offenders and the impact on their reentry and reintegration. Several other researchers have recognized that the reality that after serving their sentences, sex offenders return home, some in worst straits than when they went to prison because of the social stigma and inadequate preparation to reenter and reintegrate into society and the social stigma (Bengis, Brown, Freeman-Longo, Matsuda, et al, 1999; La Fond, 2005; Petersilia, 2000; Travis & Waul, 2003; Wilkinson, 2003). Petersilia (2000) observed, "The majority of inmates leave prison with no savings, no immediate entitlements to unemployment benefits, and few job prospects" (p. 3). Other researchers point to a number of risk factors unique to adult and juvenile sex offenders and have called for sex offender-specific risks and needs assessments and treatment (Hanson & Morton-Bourgon, 2005; Prescott, 2007; Worling & Langstorm, 2006). The aim is to identify risks, needs, and intervention strategies that are most likely to result in risk reduction and successful reentry and reintegration of sex offenders. Reentry of sex offenders living with stigma also has a number of implications for the families and communities across the country. Wilkinson (2003) observed that for every sex offender returning home, there is a family and community that must face new challenges; therefore, it matters greatly how we incarcerate, rehabilitate, supervise, and reintegrate offenders. Several researchers including Cullen and Gendreau (2000), LaFond
(2005), and Petersilia, (2003) indicated that the punishment-driven approach and longer sentences have not translated into recidivism reduction. Despite the fact that almost all, if not all, sex offenders will return to communities across the United States, relatively little research has been conducted about their reentry process and the impact on families, communities, and society at large (Daly, 2008; Hagen & Dinovitzer, 1999; Petersilia, 2000; Travis, 2005). Few empirical studies on the factors responsible for the recidivism of sex offenders have been conducted (Daly, 2008). Some researchers have suggested that in addition to poverty and other external factors, unavailability of community-based resources continue to contribute to recidivism of ex- offenders, specifically sex offenders (Clear, Rose & Ryder, 2001; LaFond, 2005; Petersilia, 2005). My work as a counselor with sex offenders has offered me a first-hand opportunity to become intimately familiar with some of the inherent issues, problems and barriers that are consistent with those raised in the research. I have also become aware of the extreme complexity of both the etiology of sexual assault and the trajectories to recidivism that research has not addressed and can only be addressed from the offenders' perspectives or their world views. As a group, sex offenders are a very heterogeneous bunch as will be illustrated with three case vignettes in Chapter II. They differ not only in their motivations for and pathways to sexual offending, but in disorder of personality that are implicated in their reentry and reintegration challenges. These challenges are exacerbated by what La Fond (2002) referred to as the jurisprudence of danger ousness which portray, all sex offenders as extremely dangerous during their entire lifetimes. In this view, sex offenders need to be given longer sentences to protect the public.
8 Inspiration for the Study and Researcher Perspective The Inspiration For My Study The inspiration for my study of the experiences of sex offenders who live with this social stigma emerged from personal experiences working with offenders in prison for over 12 years. What struck me first, and continues to do so, is that a disproportionate number of the sex offenders I worked with in counseling exhibit negative self-efficacy, and are unprepared for reentry into society. Self-efficacy is the judgment of a personal capacity to perform a specific and prospective task (Bandura, 1997). Sex offenders often exhibit very complex self-defeating and self-destructive patterns that sabotage their institutional adjustment, thus precluding them from rehabilitation programs. Over the years, as I listened to their stories and observed their behaviors, it is evident how the negative self-efficacy appears to be rooted in self-degradation based on past experiences and stigmatization. In order to help this population overcome the negative self-efficacy, self- degradation, and the social stigma, there is a need for society and professionals to better understand sex offenders to include their world views, their aspirations, and especially, reentry challenges. Petersillia (1999) observed that while most sex offenders, "aspire to relatively modest, stable, conventional life after prison, society must consider how well prepared they are to achieve such goals" (p. 501). I anticipate that my study will contribute to raising awareness about the needs of this population with hope for their successful reentry. Unsuccessful reentry of sex offenders may result in commission of new crimes, including a repeat of new sexual offenses.
9 Researcher Perspective My biggest concern in writing this dissertation has been that only one voice; mine would be heard, instead of the voices, and the emotions of the participants. That would be inconsistent with my personal perspective for this study, to describe the lived experiences of participants in their own words, and what the experiences mean to them using evocative representation. Richardson and St. Pierre, (2005) stated that one important aspect of phenomenology is the paradigm of voice of participants. Richardson indicated that one of the methods of representing research participants' voices is evocative representation. Evocative representation allowed me a to re-create lived experiences through personal narratives, using thick descriptions from the data collected. Because the existing body of research on sex offenders' reentry does not include the voices of the offenders, my use of the phenomenology approach to embed the voices of participants brings a new perspective into the investigation of the reentry of sex offenders. One impetus of the research was to explore ways to decrease recidivism and ensure public safety through an understanding of sex offenders and the impediments to successful reentry. This research began as a qualitative course project that focused on an effort to understand the reentry concerns of sex offenders as they prepared for release. It became necessary to reconceptualize the topic because of the difficulties inherent in doing research with individual offenders who are still incarcerated. The process of obtaining approval to conduct research with offenders is protracted, and with no guarantee that approval would be given. Being informed about sex offenders beyond the quantitative research tradition, with a focus on needs assessment and less focus on recidivism rates and risk assessments,
10 is critical to preventing sexual assaults and protecting society. Understanding the needs of sex offenders, their world views, and their situations, from a phenomenological perspective is as important as the quantitative data itself, if not more important. My work as a counselor with sex offenders has offered me a first-hand opportunity to become intimately aware of some of the reentry issues, problems and barriers faced by sex offenders and their families that the quantitative research approach has not revealed. I have also become aware of the extreme complexity of both the etiology of sexual assaults, and the trajectories to recidivism. As a group, sex offenders are a very heterogeneous bunch. They differ not only in their motivations for, and pathways to sexual offending, but in personality dysfunctions that are implicated in their sexual offense behaviors and reentry concerns and difficulties. The heterogeneity of sex offenders makes assessment, treatment, and reentry efforts very complex, difficult, and underscore the need for innovative assessment and treatment approaches. Thus, the myriad of reentry challenges faced by sex offenders as borne out by researchers appear salient. They include the inability to secure residency and employment, inability to establish social support networks, regaining custody of children, acceptance by family and community, dealing with ex-convict and social stigma of sexual offender status, child support payments, substance abuse, registration, and mental illness (La Fond, 2005; O'Brien, 2001; Petersilia, 2000; Severance, 2007; Travis, 2005; Travis & Waul, 2003). These challenges are exacerbated by the jurisprudence of danger ousness, which portray all sex offenders as extremely dangerous during their entire lifetimes (La Fond, 2005). In this view, special approaches are critical to protect future victims from ongoing threats, namely, long confinements to prevent sexual crimes to protect the public.
11 While other ex-convicts and felons also must confront some of these same reentry challenges, from my experience working with sex offenders, the post-incarceration experience of sex offenders is qualitatively different from other felons. Sex offenders face additional challenges, such as the sex offender stigma, registration laws, residence restriction, family reunion, and civil commitment that set their reentry process and reintegration apart from that of other ex-offenders and make their reentry process more difficult and challenging. For example, residency restriction laws may force released sex offenders to rely on family and friends, who are unprepared, for help with basic necessities. Residency restrictions may also cause released sex offenders to establish relationships with vulnerable single mothers, thus creating a high risk situation for the offender to reoffend. Statement of the Problem Sex offenders who live with the social stigma of being sex offenders face numerous challenges and barriers during their reentry process, especially when the stigma has become a master status and eclipsed any other positive attributes that a sex offender may have. Beside the social stigma, sex offenders also face numerous limitations placed upon them by numerous laws and ordinances that isolate them from the general public and resources and support systems that they need for successful reentry and reintegration. The consequences include the creation of a criminal subculture with a number of collateral consequences to the families and communities, intimidation by vigilante groups, and incidents of suicides committed by sex offenders. The problem is exacerbated by the media portrayal of sex offenders, public rage, the response by the legislature with laws that are repugnant to rehabilitation, and lack of sufficient funding to
12 support sex offender treatment while in prison and upon release, leaving sex offenders unprepared for reentry. Petersilia (2000) indicated that most offenders leaving prison have no savings, no immediate entitlement to unemployment benefits, and few job prospects. The sex offender stigma leaves sex offenders ineligible for jobs and with outright rejection by employers. Unemployment and underemployment among sex offenders in jobs that provide low pay, few or no benefits, leaves sex offenders barely able to care for themselves, let alone their children, spouses, and other dependents. Concerns for employment and underemployment become especially crucial and critical for older sex offenders, sex offenders with mental illness problems, and those who have served long sentences, making their reentry challenging and tenuous. Travis (2005) observed that when ex-offenders return to their communities at the end of their incarcerations, many of them and their families face uncertainties, barriers, and unresolved personal and family issues. My experience working with this population is consistent with Travis's observation. Indeed, the journey home for many sex offenders and their families is marked by uncertainties, barriers, and unresolved personal and family issues. Thus for the returning sex offenders, who must also face the social stigma, residence restrictions, lack of job skills, the reentry process is a reason for concern. La Fond's observation (2002) that society experiences anger at sex offenders and the crimes they commit presents another problem for the reentry of sex offenders. The public believes that sex offenders are lifelong predators who continue to seek out new victims as long as they live (La Fond). The public's demand that politicians protect the public from these marauders has led to numerous laws and longer sentences. La Fond
13 (2002) indicated that these laws are not effective in addressing the problem of sexual assault crimes because they are not based on grounded empiricisms and careful analysis. La Fond and others, (Levenson & Cotter, 2005a), have also indicated that too many of these offenders leave prison without rehabilitation and are worse off when reentering society as a result of the unintended consequences of the sex offender laws. Travis's book, But They All Come Back: Facing the Challenges of Prisoner Reentry (2005) epitomizes the reentry odyssey for all released offenders, particularly sex offenders, returning to communities across the United States that has informed the problem statement of my study. But They All Come Back: Facing the Challenges of Prisoner Reentry reads like a sequel to John Braithwaite's Crime, Shame, and Reintegration (1989) and the theory of reintegrative shaming, which is the theoretical framework of my research. Regardless of the reason for incarceration and length of incarceration, the majority of prisoners, including sex offenders, return ill prepared for life after incarceration (Travis, 2005). Braithwaite's fundamental thesis is that just shaming offenders without opportunity for reentry and reintegration through decertification ceremonies is likely to lead to the following consequences: ... leads to stigmatization - to out casting, to confirmation of master status-versus shaming that is reintegrative, that shames while maintaining the bonds of respect ... Reintegrative shaming controls crime; stigmatization pushes offenders toward criminal subcultures (pp.12-13). For example, sex offenders, not only face long sentences for their crimes and public outrage, but face a paucity of programming to adequately prepare them for life after
14 incarceration and a more tenacious stigma that creates problems for their reentry and community reintegration. Purpose and Significance of the Study The purpose of my study was to describe the lived experiences of sex offenders living with the social stigma of being a sex offender as they reenter society and what the experiences mean to them. Understanding the reentry experiences of sex offenders from their perspectives is fundamental to understanding their counseling, reentry, and reintegration needs, public awareness, and may well inform policy. Given the complexity of sexual assaults and the heterogeneity of the sex offender population, it is presumptuous, inaccurate, and incorrect to believe that society has a clear understanding and comprehensive picture of sex offenders reentry and reintegration process based on the existing body of knowledge that is still at its infancy and replete with controversies. I could not find any study, quantitative or qualitative, that specifically addressed the lived experiences of reentering sex offenders living with social stigma. My research fills that gap by utilizing the phenomenological approach in the tradition of Moustakas (1994) to describe the lived experiences of sex offenders as they reenter society after incarceration. I anticipate that the results of my research will convey to the reader a deeper understanding of the unique themes that represent both the individual and collective voices of participants, as well as, the essence of the phenomenon of the lived experiences of sex offenders living with social stigma through the personal narratives of participants. The implications of the results of my study for informing treatment and policy to better prepare sex offenders for reentry will be addressed.