5 Sex offenders: Ensuring public safety and improving the effectiveness of treatment through the development of an algorithm to match sex offenders with appropriate probation-based treatment.
Submitting InstitutionUniversity of Birmingham
Unit of AssessmentPsychology, Psychiatry and Neuroscience
Summary Impact TypeLegal
Research Subject Area(s)
Medical and Health Sciences: Public Health and Health Services
Economics: Applied Economics
Studies In Human Society: Criminology
Summary of the impact
Through better assessment of the risk of reoffending it has been possible
to improve the treatment of sex offenders and protect the public. An
algorithm developed at the University of Birmingham, has been used by
the Probation Service to classify the entire prison population of over
8000 sex offenders attending treatment in England and Wales,
enabling allocation to the best treatment available at the time. This
approach to treatment led to a 40% reduction in recidivism in
those who were treatment responders. More specifically, this work enabled
length of treatment to be matched to high-risk offenders' level of
pre-treatment risk/need, and resulted in a reduced rate of reconviction
among high-risk offenders to the level of reconviction observed among
lower risk/need offenders. The work has reduced the level of sexual
victimisation in the UK, reduced the costs associated with such
offending, and has influenced policy and services for the treatment of
sex offenders in other countries in Europe. Such recidivism
reduction also enables ex-offenders to lead more fulfilling offence free
Professor Beech (Professor of Criminal Psychology, at UoB from 1998
onwards) has been heavily involved in developing systems for the
assessment and treatment of sexual offenders for the Home Office, Ministry
of Justice, and the National Offender management Service (NOMS), and his
Research on improved assessment of offender risk. The work
originates in reports commissioned by the UK Government and written in
1999 and 2005, which examined how to improve assessment and treatment
outcomes for sexual offenders . Key conclusions relevant for the impact
described here were that offenders varied in their response to treatment,
and that if this variation could be predicted then treatment programmes
could be tailored to individual need and responsiveness.
Research on improved assessment of treatment outcomes for different
kinds of offender. As part of a national evaluation of all sex
offenders undertaking probation-based treatment, all individuals
volunteering for treatment completed a number of psychometric tests
developed by Beech and other researchers . This work involved offenders
being classified as having a high or low need for treatment, and to
assessment of any changes during treatment. Work looking at this
typological analysis (reported in ) has been reported over a period of
10 years in high impact forensic journals (e.g., [3, 4, 5]).
Research on an algorithm that combines typological information into
recommendations for treatment and custodial term. Although the work
described above established the usefulness of psychometric typologies for
predicting treatment outcome, all of the work of scoring psychometrics and
formulating typologies was initially carried out on a manual basis.
Mathematically weighted outcomes from these results were combined to give
a recommendation for treatment. This was both time-consuming, and required
statistical knowledge and confidence with using information technology.
Implementing this process led to a heavy workload for individuals working
for the Probation Service who carried out these assessments, plus a need
for training in the necessary mathematical competencies. These
requirements reduced the likelihood of practical uptake of these methods,
and the challenges of accurately scoring and collating complex data raised
the risk of miscategorisation of individuals.
To address this problem Beech was a key contributor to the development of
an algorithm that enables scoring and data collation to be conducted in a
largely automated fashion. Beech led this initiative, by developing the
original algorithm, and (with colleagues, for the Probation Service)
trained practitioners in how to use it. The Sex Offender Psychometric
Scoring System (SOPSSys) was published in a practitioner publication: The
Probation Journal (a journal aimed at probation officers, and managers)
. The algorithm automates all of the time-consuming and mathematically
demanding steps described above, so that the user of the system only needs
to enter the basic scores from the psychometric tests, which are then
combined automatically to give a treatment recommendation. The ability to
implement this in a clear, non-confusing and non-intimidating fashion was
critical for uptake of the psychometric classification system.
The critical contribution of the algorithm is that it is accurate and
efficient so that a typological approach to therapeutic allocation (i.e.,
identifying high/low need offenders) can be practically implemented in the
work of NOMS. Therefore, this work has had very real world impact upon the
treatment of sexual offenders.
References to the research
2. Mandeville-Norden, R., & Beech, A.R. (2009). Development of a
psychometric typology of child molesters: Implications for treatment.
Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 24, 307-325. DOI
3. Beech, A.R., Mandeville-Norden, R., & Goodwill, A.M.
(2012). Comparing recidivism rates of treatment responders/non-responders
in a sample of 413 child molesters who had completed community-based sex
offender treatment in the UK. International Journal of Offender
Therapy and Comparative Criminology, 56, 29-49. doi:
4. Wakeling, H., Freemantle, N., Beech, A.R., & Elliott, I.
A. (2011). Identifying predictors of recidivism in a large sample of UK
sexual offenders: A prognostic model. Psychological
Services, 8, 307-318. (American Psychological Association Journal).
5. Wakeling, H., Beech, A.R., & Freemantle, N. (2013). Investigating
treatment change and its relationship to recidivism in a sample of 3773
sex offenders in the UK. Psychology, Crime and Law, 19, 233-252. DOI
6. Mandeville-Norden, R., Beech, A., & Middleton, D. (2006). The
development of the Sex Offender Psychometric Scoring System (SOPSSys) for
use in the Probation Service. Probation Journal, 53, 89-94. DOI:
Details of the impact
Changes to national policy towards the treatment of sexual offenders
in the UK
This work has produced changes in policy over the last eight years in the
Probation Service in the UK, and elsewhere, as follows:
England and Wales. Since the publication of the Sex
Offender Psychometric Scoring System (SOPSSys) algorithm developed by
Beech and colleagues (e.g., Mandeville-Norden, Beech, & Middleton,
2006) the Probation Service in the UK has used the SOPSSys system to
allocate its entire population of relevant sex offenders (8,000+
individuals) to longer and shorter offender treatment. Its use is now
standard practice across the 35 probation trusts across England and Wales.
The benefits of these processes are to allocate individuals to treatment,
dependent upon their needs; and to measure whether treatment has had an
impact — in order to ascertain whether more interventions are needed for
particular individuals .
Scotland. The work described in Section 2 has led to the
development of new systems, led by Beech, for assessing the treatment
efficacy of a new sex offender treatment programme in Scotland to commence
in 2014. This has led to the production of a manual — `The Offender Rating
Battery for Sexual Offenders' — that will be used to guide the application
of this new system across Scotland.
Reductions in repeat offending
Barnett, Wakeling, Mandeville-Norden and Rakestrow, (2012),  used the
SOPSSys data to examine its relationship with sexual and/or violent
reconviction in a sample of 3,402 convicted sexual offenders who attended
probation treatment. They found that problematic areas (risk domains) that
were dysfunctional before treatment, as measured by the SOPSSys system,
predicted recidivism outcome. These findings suggest that more intensive
treatment should be offered to those with the highest levels of
psychological problems. Barnett, Wakeling, Mandeville-Norden and Rakestrow
(2013) , using the same sample, examined the relationship between
psychometric test change over treatment and sexual or violent
reconviction. Those who were classed as not requiring further change in a
major aspect of their problems reliably linked to re-offending had a 25%
lower rate of reconviction than those who still needed to change. This
demonstrates the efficacy of treatment, which is critically enabled and
targeted by the efficient psychometric approach of the SOPSSys system.
Reduction in costs to the criminal justice system
The SOPSSys enables those in probation services to score offender
assessments on entry to their system in order to classify offenders by the
level of risk posed and to determine the treatment needs of the offender.
Subsequently offenders can be allocated to the correct length, intensity
and type of treatment, reducing the risk of sexual recidivism from
approximately 19% to approximately 11% . The initial cost to the
criminal justice system per re-offence has been estimated at £108,261 per
offender  (this includes Criminal Justice cost, Crown Court cost,
provision of a new prison place, and cost of Sex Offender Treatment
Programme). There is currently a population of approximately 300 sexual
offenders in the community in the UK who were initially categorised as at
high risk of re-offending. With a recidivism rate of approximately 19% if
offenders do not receive appropriate treatment, this cohort would be
expected to incur £6.2M costs simply for processing their re-offence,
whereas with a reduced rate of recidivism this cost would be £3.6M.
Moreover, costs not only follow from processing the re-offence, but also
from the resulting prison term. Such savings are substantial given that
the annual cost of a prison place is £40k, and that an offender convicted
of rape will serve a custodial sentence of, on average 8.5 years, and
across other sexual offences an average of 32 months (Ministry of Justice,
Home Office and Office of National Statistics, 2013). Of course, in
addition to these monetary savings, reduced recidivism also has
substantial benefits for potential victims, for well-being of offenders,
their families and the society into which they are released.
Influence on international policy and practice
The work outlined above has influenced the development in Latvia of a
system to assess pre-treatment need and effectiveness of treatment for a
new sex offender treatment program. This assessment has been incorporated
in the project entitled through the "Development of Supervision and
Treatment System of Sex Offenders in Latvia" -Project No.LV0068, the
initial phases of which were completed in April 2011. Probation, prison,
mental health, victim support, prosecutor's office, courts, and local
government) were all involved in this project. An important part of the
project involved Professor Beech running workshops to train prison and
probation staff in the use of the psychometric assessments (including the
SOPSSys), in order to establish an effective evaluation framework
Assessing efficacy of sex offenders' treatment programs .
Prof. Beech and colleagues have been heavily involved in training
frontline practitioners and researchers to use the SOPSSys, in other
countries including Slovakia, New Zealand, Australia, and Taiwan. Training
workshops/keynotes on these topics over the last few years include:
- Best practice in sex offender treatment. The Max Plank Institute for
Foreign and International Criminal Law/ National Institute of
Criminology, Budapest. Freiburg Germany 16th -17th May, 2013.
- The understanding and treatment of sexual offenders in the 21st
century. Utrecht, Holland Conference. April 25th 2012.
- Risk assessment for sex offenders. Department of Social Development,
College of Community and Human Services, Rikkyo University, Tokyo, 2nd
- The way forward for sex offender treatment. Fourth Krakow Conference
of Psychology and Law, Krakow, Poland, 4-5th June 2011.
- New directions in risk assessment and treatment for sexual offenders.
Third International Conference on Drugs and Violence, Hsuan Chuang
University, Hsinchu, Taiwan. 10th June 2010. This conference was open to
practitioners working in the field of sexual abuse (such as
psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, probation officers, and
International recognition and influence.
Anthony Beech was awarded the Significant Achievement award from the
Association for the Treatment of Sexual Abusers (ATSA). Dallas, Texas,
September 2009. ATSA is a North American organization with a membership of
around 3000 people, and this prize has only been awarded to individuals
outside of the US once in the last 20 years. He has also been awarded the
Senior Award for a significant lifetime contribution to Forensic
Psychology in the UK. Division of Forensic Psychology, British
Psychological Society, June 2009, again for this work. In 2012, Anthony
Beech has been elected as the ATSA research chair, and a member of the
ATSA board. This position has never been filled by an individual who
resides outside of North America. The ATSA board see this appointment, in
part as reaching out to other countries to influence, and be influenced by
approaches to the assessment and treatment of offenders as developed by
Anthony Beech. Hence, this appointment is indicative of the influence
Anthony Beech has had in the area, in terms of policy and practical
influence of academic research.
Sources to corroborate the impact
- Beech, A.R., Mandeville-Norden, R., & Goodwill, A.M. (2012).
Comparing recidivism rates of treatment responders/non-responders in a
sample of 413 child molesters who had completed community-based sex
offender treatment in the UK. International Journal of Offender
Therapy and Comparative Criminology, 56, 29-49. DOI
- Barnett, G.D., Wakeling, H., Mandeville-Norden, R., & Rakestrow,
J. (2012). How useful are psychometric scores in predicting recidivism
for treated offenders? International Journal of Offender Therapy and
Comparative Criminology, 56, 420-446. DOI
- Barnett, G.D., Wakeling, H., Mandeville-Norden, R., & Rakestrow,
J. (2013). Does change in psychometric scores tell us anything about
risk of reconviction in sexual offenders? Psychology, Crime and Law,
- 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.
- Elliott, I.A., & Beech, A.R. (2012). A U.K. cost-benefit analysis
for Circles of Support and Accountability. Sexual Abuse: A Journal
of Research and Treatment, 20, 1-19.
of Supervision and Treatment System of Sex Offenders in Latvia"
-Project No.LV0068 This evidences use of SOPSSys for this