Adapted Sex Offenders Treatment Programmes

Adapted Sex Offenders Treatment Programmes

Since the 90s sex offenders treatment has adapted to include a wider method of therapy which covers ‘risk management’ for people of all cognitive abilities.

Treatment for sex offenders is now delivered together with a wide range of interventions intended to assess and manage the risk posed by such individuals, depending on their ability or disability to learn.

The Sex Offender Treatment Programme (SOTP) is recognised as the “largest multi-site, cognitive behavioural treatment programme for sex offenders in the world”(1). A series of programmes are available for sex offenders, supplying a range of treatment which is delivered according to the level of risk, need or cognitive ability. The programme helps offenders develop cognitive understanding of how and why sex offences are committed; it also increases awareness of victim harm. The main aim is to help the offender set meaningful goals and develop new thinking and behavioural skills that will guide them away from re-offending.
Current reviews have found that sex offender programmes that follow the major principles of risk and need are the programmes that produce the highest figures in reoffending reductions. “It is the medium to high risk sexual offenders that show the most progression in reoffending reduction from this treatment. Low risk sexual offenders show small benefits and probably do not require intensive treatment” (2). Further examples of SOTP success rates include “26 high‐quality research studies of sex offender treatment. The sexual offending re-conviction rate for treated offenders showed an average of 27% reduction in sexual offending”(3).

SO treatment programmes can include a variety of methods to access sex offenders with different cognitive abilities. The Low Intensity (LI) Sexual Offending Treatment Programme is established for treatment to all sex offenders who have a conviction for a non-contact sexual offence and are medium or high risk of re-offending. The LI programme provides access for two groups of sex offenders, convicted of any contact sexual offence or sexually motivated offence that are low risk; and people convicted of non-contact offending, including offences related to the internet as long as there was no attempted contact offending.

The High Intensity (HI) Programme aims to help people develop thinking skills, as well as personal abilities and behaviour that reduce sexual re-offending. The programme creates a supportive and respectful environment which encourages individuals to understand their offending and to develop knowledge of their own strengths and personal qualities. The HI programme is provides access to people convicted of contact, or attempted contact sexual offences, offenders must be over 18 years old, accept they committed a sexual motivated offence and who are medium, high or very high risk. However, the HI programme is not suitable for those who have poor intellectual ability measured by an IQ of less than 80.

Further to help address sex offenders with cognitive disabilities there is an adapted series of SO treatment programmes. These adapted programmes are fully accredited, and ensure that they meet the needs of sex offenders with low IQ and low cognitive ability. This requires the offender to have an IQ ranging between 60 and 80 with associated functioning barriers. The adapted programme also meets the requirements of Equality and Disability laws. Examples of such adapted programmes currently running are “Becoming New Me’, ‘New Me coping’ and ‘Living as New Me”(5).
ASOTPs (Adapted Sex Offender Treatment Programmes) are for those who have social or learning difficulties, designed to increase knowledge and understanding around consequential thinking, change offence reasoning, understand victim harm and develop relapse prevention skills.

In terms of adaptations the SOTP requires the patient to have a specific set of skills in order for the treatment to be effective; these requirements can be a challenge for individuals with low IQ or low cognitive ability. The adapted use of SOTP can have huge benefits to individuals with learning deficits when receiving therapy. These adaptations within treatment can include more repetition of work content, the ability to ask lots of questions to develop understanding, more visual cues, pictures, cards rather than verbal, more manageable change steps, regular reinforcement, practice and the recognition of success. An adapted programme provides a safe, familiar, and rewarding environment to practice skills and to reduce re-offending.
NOMS (National offender management service) studied “pre to post treatment change on psychometric tests with a sample of over 200 offenders who had taken part in an Adapted programme” (4). This programme was especially designed for sex offenders who have low IQ or low cognitive ability. They concluded significant change and improvements in all of the major aims and objectives of treatment, such as relapse prevention, attitudes supporting offending, denial and victim empathy with increased self‐esteem.




  1. Brampton, L (2011) Working with sexual offenders: the training and support needs SOTP facilities. Ph.D. thesis, University of Birmingham cited
  2. Hanson, R.K., Bourgon, G., Helmus, L., & Hodgson, S. (2009). The principles of effective correctional treatment also apply to sexual offenders: A Meta-analysis. Criminal Justice and Behavior, 36, 865-891.
  3. Schmucker, M & Losel, F. (2009). A systematic review of high quality evaluations of sex offender treatment. Paper presented at the Annual Conference of the European Society of Criminology, Ljubljana, Slovenia.
  4. Williams, F., Wakeling, H., & Webster, S. (2007). A psychometric study of six self-report measures for use with sexual offenders with cognitive and social functioning deficits. Psychology, Crime and Law, 13, 505-522.



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