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Prison's Sex Offender Program Needs More Money

Prison's Sex Offender Program Needs More Money

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Tonya Papanikolas Reporting“I don't want to hurt people and I want to be free. I desperately want to be free of the desire to sexually assault people.”

Convicted sex offenders speak out on how they're turning their lives around.

The state prison is currently treating up to 200 inmates for sexual offenses. Corrections officials are lobbying the legislature for more money for the program. Tonya Papanikolas spoke with two convicted sex offenders going through the treatment.

Prisoners say this therapy program helps them take responsibility for their actions. Corrections officials also stand behind the program, but they say they could do a lot more with more money. In the last seven years the number of imprisoned sex offenders has grown from 900 to about 1450. But during that time, the funding for treatment hasn't budged.

Jeff Mason, Convicted Sex Offender: “I really didn't think I did anything wrong. I was in denial.”

Jeff Mason is in prison for raping his ex-girlfriend. Jon Stephens was convicted of sexually abusing a child.

Jon Stephens , Convicted Child Sex Offender: “I thought I should be treated as a good guy for turning myself in.”

Both men now have different attitudes after spending months in a sex offender treatment program at the prison.

Jeff Mason: “I Have made a lot of changes. I see how I've hurt a lot of people in my life, and I don't want to do that anymore.”

Jon Stephens: “I”m ashamed. I caused a lot of hurt for my family and my victim.”

The 18-month program focuses on group therapy twice a week. Social workers and offenders say group members help keep each other accountable.

Debra Chiquito, Prison Social Worker: “They're in for sex offenses too, going, 'You need to look at what you just said and how you're blaming the victim.'”

Jeff Mason: “There's a lot of pressure to change your behavior or people are gonna call you on that.”

Corrections statistics show the system is working. After one year of being released, almost fifty percent of the general prison population is back behind bars. But for those who underwent sex offender treatment, that number drops to 19-percent.

Dr. Ron Sanchez, Sex Offender Treatment Program Director: “It's a public safety issue to be able to provide good and comprehensive treatment to the offenders that need it.”

To do that, Sanchez and other corrections officials say they need more funding. They're asking for half a million dollars from the legislature.

Dr. Ron Sanchez: “We would be able to hire three or four new therapists.”

Extra staff would mean more prisoners could finish treatment before they're paroled, treatment these offenders swear by.

Jon Stephens: “I honestly believe that the possibility of change is there. We need support.”

Jeff Mason: “This has been the best thing that I have ever done for myself, to change and be a part of society instead of a hindrance.”

Half of the money will be used for probation and parole, which could include treatment in halfway houses. Corrections officials say they would also like to start family therapy with the prisoners.

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