SALT LAKE CITY — After an April audit found Utah's Sex Offender Treatment Program to be poorly managed and operating under an outdated model, state Department of Corrections officials say they're working to make improvements.
The audit noted the treatment program's failure to manage its personnel and track its performance, as well as its lack of "evidence-based practices." Auditors said the program needs more regular and effective assessments of its methods, as well as programs for offenders with disabilities.
August Lehman, an auditor with the Office of the Legislative Auditor General, said the Department of Corrections had not collected enough evidence to show that the program reduced recidivism among offenders.
Lehman also noted a backlog of sex offenders awaiting treatment and said delays in an offender's treatment plan — which typically take 18 months to two years to complete — could impact that offender's parole release date.
"These delays present a significant cost to the state and concern to inmates' families and advocacy groups," he said.
Mike Haddon, the Utah Department of Corrections' deputy director of administrative services, acknowledged the Sex Offender Treatment Program's shortcomings, saying the department let the Legislature down.
Haddon noted that with the hiring of a new program director, Dr. Victor Kersey, the department has worked to implement most of the recommendations made in the audit.
Kersey said one of his first moves as director was to make changes in leadership over the state's Sex Offender Treatment Program. He also put a pause on the program's actions for two weeks, he said, to create a more accurate assessment of the kinds of treatment needed by each offender.
"In order to avoid a one-size-fits-all program, we're currently exploring a couple of options for our hands-off child pornography possession offenders," Kersey said.
The department successfully added new programs to treat people who are intellectually disabled, he said, as well as an "aftercare" program to prevent relapses to offenders who completed the core program but were still awaiting parole.
"It sounds like the audit was pretty critical," said Sen. Daniel Thatcher, R-West Valley City. "You were aware of the issue, you brought in a ringer, and we know have evidence-based and accountability practices moving forward."