Sex Offenders Forced to Face Lie-Detector Tests upon Release

By Jason Bennetto Crime Correspondent | The Independent (London, England), January 5, 2005 | Go to article overview
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Sex Offenders Forced to Face Lie-Detector Tests upon Release


Jason Bennetto Crime Correspondent, The Independent (London, England)


SEX OFFENDERS living in the community are to take compulsory lie- detector tests after a study found 85 per cent were reoffending or breaching parole, or had failed polygraph tests.

The Home Office intends to introduce a new law to force those offenders released from prison under community and probation orders to take the tests. The move is understood to be part of a pilot study included as a clause in the planned Management of Offenders and Sentencing Bill in the coming year.

The police are also considering using polygraphs to help monitor sex offenders and have discussed deploying them in cases involving domestic violence and stalking.

The controversial polygraph tests, which are considered to be 90 per cent accurate, can detect when people are lying by measuring changes in breathing, heart rate and sweating.

The move towards a compulsory system follows the results of the continuing pilot study in which 200 convicted sex offenders, who are mostly paedophiles but include some rapists, have volunteered for polygraph tests. The results, which were disclosed to The Independent, revealed that 85 per cent either failed a polygraph test or disclosed information about reoffending, breaching the conditions of their community orders, or were experiencing deviant behaviour involving children.

Within the 85 per cent, about two-thirds made disclosures of information that had not been known to their probation officers. About 20 per cent failed the polygraph test without making a disclosure, but revealed information that needed further investigation.

The polygraph testers were not allowed to ask the sex offenders whether they had re-offended, but some volunteered the information, including one man who admitted having sex with an underage victim.

At first the new power for compulsory tests will be used in the project in which a total of 200 sex offenders have so far undergone a polygraph test. But if this study proves to be successful, the mandatory scheme is expected to be adopted nationally.

The Probation Service, which along with the Home Office and police has been exploring the use of polygraphs, is enthusiastic about the use of lie detectors in managing sex offenders. The National Probation Directorate is drawing up plans for a possible regulatory body that could oversee the training and qualifications of polygraph testers.

Don Grubin, professor of forensic psychiatry at Newcastle University, who is leading the polygraph study, said: "We have discussed the use of polygraphs with the police.

"They are not using it at the moment, but are interested in trying it out in certain situations. They have indicated that it could be used in managing sex offenders, cases of domestic violence and people with a history of stalking. They are reluctant to use it in a criminal investigation, but I think there is some potential there."

Professor Grubin described the results of the current tests as "startling". "Most of these guys who are put before the polygraph just admit it all."

Asked why offenders who were breaking their release conditions would volunteer to take a lie test, he replied: "There are some who want to prove they are low risk and think they can beat the polygraph."

The polygraph can also be used to provide evidence that a former offender is sticking to his treatment programme and is no longer a danger to the community.

In July last year Home Office and police representatives visited the FBI in Washington, the Department of Defence in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and a private polygraph-testing centre to investigate lie detectors, which are widely used in the United States.

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