A new treatment program for sex offenders is taking shape at Airway Heights Corrections Center.
The 200-person program aims to reduce the number of inmates who reoffend by offering individual and group counseling that focuses on unhealthy desires, what triggers them, and how to work through them.
Housed in a new $5 million building, the program isn’t expected to increase the sex offender population at the prison.
Instead, it will serve sex offenders who are already in the prison system but aren’t getting treatment.
“We’re not going to be importing people to release here,” said Maggie Miller-Stout, superintendent of the 2,150-person prison.
Prison officials say treatment works, citing a study that shows 17 percent of sex offenders released from Washington prisons reoffended, compared with a 3 percent recidivism rate with treatment.
Offenders work on figuring out what causes their inappropriate desires and how to steer clear of dangerous triggers once they’re released. The program offers six to eight hours of counseling each week, with graduates typically undergoing about 350 hours.
“It’s a long process. It’s difficult. Imagine being asked to share everything about your sexual life with a therapist,” said Sally Neiland, program director.
Treatment continues after release, and graduates sometimes volunteer to mentor other program participants, officials said.
“If they go out in the community and don’t hurt someone else, then we’ve done our job,” Neiland said.
Inmates in the program live in the regular prison facility and go to regular counseling sessions at the center. The building houses other programs but is primarily for sex offenders.
The arrangement raises safety concerns, because it will be easier for inmates to know who’s been convicted of a sex offense – and possibly target them for violence, said Capt. Ron Haynes.
That concern prompted prison officials to work with the state attorney general’s office to create prison rules specifying penalties for inmates who victimize others based on their convictions, including sex crimes, Haynes said.
People convicted of all types of sex crimes qualify for the treatment program. An inmate must admit to the crime and volunteer to participate.
High-risk offenders are kept at the 240-bed Twin Rivers Corrections Center in Monroe. Fifteen female sex offenders are undergoing treatment at the Washington Corrections Center for Women near Gig Harbor.
The new center marks the first time in 18 years that Washington has expanded its sex-offender treatment facilities.