Scottish sex offenders who took part in specialist group therapy sessions were found to pose less of a risk to the public after completing the course, according to an official study.
More than two-thirds (69 per cent) of the male sex offenders involved in the programme had a lower risk score by the end, the research commissioned by the Scottish Government concluded.
The scheme, called Moving Forward: Making Changes, was first introduced in 2014 and is now delivered in four prisons around Scotland, and 11 sites in the community.
Designed by the Scottish Prison Service (SPS) and the Scottish Government, it is aimed at adult male sex offenders who are believed to have a medium to high risk of reoffending.
The scheme, which is open to convicted paedophiles and rapists as well as men who have committed offences online, offers various modules on how to change their behaviour.
According to an assessment by research company Ipsos Mori, which analysed computer data and conducted interviews with offenders and course staff, the programme appears to work.
Among participants initially rated as high risk, only 53 per cent were still regarded this way at the end, while 38 per cent had moved into the moderate risk category and 9 per cent were rated low risk.
According to a survey of offenders who completed the course, 85 per cent believed it would stop them committing a similar crime in the future.
While some staff said they were “sceptical” about the course’s overall impact, most agreed it had a “better chance” of being effective than previous sex offender rehabilitation projects.
However, the researchers cautioned that there were “serious question marks” over the reliability of the data, adding it could not be established how far the course contributed to the decline in risk.
In prisons, the programme is delivered by psychologists and specially trained prison officers. Classes in the community are taken by social workers specialising in criminal rehabilitation.
An SPS spokesman said the findings of the study were “very encouraging” and that a wider evaluation of the project would be undertaken. He said: “It is early days, but we are quite hopeful that this marks a significant development in addressing the behaviour of such offenders.”
A Scottish Government spokesman said: “The rules governing registered sex offenders are already more stringent than they have ever been, but we are determined to do even more to ensure public safety.”