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Kat’s Blog: Does Law Enforcement Belong In Your Group Setting?

Therapeutic treatment groups, no matter what kind, are usually carefully monitored settings where one can feel safe enough to talk about very personal and intimate issues.

“Sex offender” treatment groups should be no exception. The therapeutic groups that many registrants are mandated to attend are also supposed to be safe havens, settings where registrants can open up in a group of their peers, about difficult issues they are dealing with.
So why are parole officers sitting in on “sex offender” therapy treatment sessions?

It doesn’t seem right and it doesn’t seem ethical.

According to the US Justice Dept., registrant treatment involves information sharing and strategies between law enforcement and treatment professionals. OK, so far I kind of agree with this. If you are involved in court mandated treatment and have a parole officer, then according to what I’ve read, these two entities will be sharing information about you, establishing goals for your treatment and collaborating to supposedly help you succeed. (Well, in theory it sounds good.)

But why should parole officers be sitting in on therapy sessions at all? Therapy sessions that are supposedly so private that according to the government, the groups must abide by all HIPPA rules. In therapy sessions, group or private, you are a patient and what’s discussed between you and the mental health professional facilitating the group should be on a “need to know” basis for your P.O.

I can almost guarantee that if you are in a financial position where you can afford to pay for “private” one on one “sex offender” treatment, a private therapist is not going to allow a P.O. to sit in on your therapy session. Therapy is a confidential matter and unless a therapist specifically receives your permission to invite someone into a session because they feel it might somehow be beneficial or offer insight into your treatment issues, uninvited “guests” just don’t happen.

While sex offender guidelines may vary from state to state it would seem that not everything discussed in these settings is or should be fodder for the ears of any and all law enforcement. There’s a great difference between a therapist sharing pertinent information about a client with that particular client’s P.O. and having a P.O. sit in on a group and listen to information about folks that aren’t even on their caseload.

Few people want to be in mandated treatment. A lot of folks aren’t delighted with the idea of having to spill their guts every week in a group setting with a lot of strangers. Now add the fact that you are having to pay for these “therapy” sessions with your hard earned money and there are strangers, P.O.’s that have nothing to do with you, listening to your every word. Do you feel “safe & secure” in opening up in treatment? Are you getting your money’s worth out of these group sessions ?

It just doesn’t seem right, does it? It certainly doesn’t seem ethical. And, I wonder if it’s at all legal.

The odd thing is that there isn’t anywhere in any sex offender treatment rules that I’ve read where it says P.O.’s are or aren’t allowed to sit in on group therapy sessions. What they are entitled to is to have information “shared” if the therapist feels that something discussed in group would be important for the P.O. to know about, new offenses committed, suicidal or homicidal thoughts someone may have discussed, those sorts of things. Just sitting in group, like “a fly on the wall”, listening to details of everyone’s lives, I really don’t think that’s what’s supposed to be happening in group sessions. Other than for intimidation purposes, why would any P.O. need to be there?

Law enforcement doesn’t belong in a therapeutic setting where registrants are having to pay for the right to speak freely about their issues. Maybe this is a non-issue in some group settings, perhaps P.O.’s in some places “know their place” and don’t try to ingratiate themselves into a group treatment setting that they have no business being in.

But the fact remains, this is happening in places and it’s disturbing to think that registrants are not receiving the same “therapeutic privacy consideration” as clients in similar treatment settings. “Sex offender” group therapy can hardly be considered HIPPA compliant when law enforcement can randomly decide to sit in on therapy sessions for no particular reason.

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