Arrested Development

A Denver therapist wants to lock up sexual predators -- forever. But patients say the treatment is just making them bitter.

"It's important to take a humane and ethical approach to treating sex offenders so we're not creating a population of modern-day lepers, because that doesn't help them want to become better," says Tedeschi, who runs Resource Center for At-Risk Youth, a juvenile offender program, and Sexual Offense Resource Services, a program for adult men and women. "We need to find a balance between authority, intrusiveness and support. If we don't provide strong support for offenders, we can see an increase in depression and hopelessness, and that contributes to risk, because we know that those are reasons these men offend."

And as extreme as Veeder's methods might seem -- even he concedes that sniffing ammonia or rotten meat is "very primitive" -- they are perfectly allowable under state law. A law Veeder himself helped create. In the early 1990s, there was confusion within the Colorado Division of Criminal Justice about how sex offenders should be treated. "The head of Criminal Justice called Greig, and Greig called me and said we need to come up with some guidelines," recalls T.H.E. boardmember Moore.

A group of probation officers, district attorneys and therapists in Arapahoe County had been meeting voluntarily for two years to discuss the need for standards; once Veeder was approached about it, he and his colleagues helped write legislation that in 1992 created the Sex Offender Management Board. Over the next few years, the board, whose 21 members are appointed by the different criminal justice and mental-health agencies they represent, came up with standards and guidelines for the treatment, evaluation and supervision of sex offenders. The board's current role is to make sure that the state's 126 sex-offender treatment providers follow those guidelines, which include reducing offenders' denial and defensiveness, developing relapse prevention plans and improving perpetrators' social skills.

Anthony Camera
Psychologist James Selkin says T.H.E. is overkill for most patients.
Anthony Camera
Psychologist James Selkin says T.H.E. is overkill for most patients.

The offenders in T.H.E. seem most concerned with when they can leave; according to Veeder, that's the first question they ask upon entering T.H.E. "Let's go to Craig Hospital and ask the paraplegic if he'll ever graduate to full ambulatory ability and ask him how much he likes never being able to do that. Being a sex offender is a handicap they have to learn to live with, and they can't overcome it," Veeder says. "We've graduated a few people, but not many. One was later found in a child-care center in Central City trying to make friends. Another came to group on a volunteer basis, saying he didn't need to use the treatment tools anymore. He was later caught pissing in public."

Stephen Brake, a sex-offender evaluator, close friend of Veeder's and former T.H.E. boardmember says the Sex Offender Management Board, on which he currently sits, doesn't take positions on treatment programs. "The restrictions T.H.E. places on offenders are really necessary for the community, as well as for the offender," says Brake, "even though it's hard for the offender to realize that. Most offenders in most treatment programs are unhappy about the restrictions placed on them. I'm not sure complaints about T.H.E. are any more or less than in any other program."

Veeder says he always operates under the assumption that graduation is possible. But, he says, placing too much emphasis on graduation enforces the offenders' minimizing attitude. If they think they can just pass a few chapters and get out, they'll feel that what they did wasn't that bad, and they'll go on to repeat the cycle. "We've never kicked someone out prematurely," Veeder says. "We've always erred on the side of keeping them in our program too long."

Because T.H.E. receives only a few small donations from private foundations and nothing in the way of government grants, its revenue is almost entirely dependent on clients. But Veeder scoffs at the criticism that he only stays in business by preventing his clients from graduating. He maintains a day job as a consultant to private businesses because the pay at T.H.E. is so low; in addition to overseeing the whole program, Veeder runs two group therapy sessions a week. Still, he earned just $24,000 from T.H.E. last year. "Even if there was an attempt to create a revenue stream, the revenue is really bad," he says. "If some kind of revenue stream is a racket, then every business is a racket," he says. T.H.E.'s revenue last year was $258,077, and its expenses were $250,210.

Rosberg was unhappy with T.H.E., but the program also had its concerns about Rosberg. Veeder determined this past May that Rosberg wasn't amenable to treatment and needed to leave. Rosberg, his therapist wrote in his termination papers, "has demonstrated a consistent lack of honesty, investment and motivation in treatment." Among other things, the therapist noted that Rosberg "stated in a staffing on February 27, 2002, that he was not convicted of a sexual offense and was not a sex offender, and also stated to his probation officer that he was not 'really' a sex offender.

"Mr. Rosberg has been provided numerous occasions within group and individual treatment settings to discuss any issues or concerns that he has, and he has consistently failed to take advantage of these opportunities, typically stating that he has nothing to discuss," the letter continues. "Given Mr. Rosberg's significant level of resistance to treatment and denial regarding his offenses, it is T.H.E.'s opinion that Mr. Rosberg's risk to the community necessitates a more structured setting."

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