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Value of Polygraph Testing in Sex Offender Management

NCJ Number
Date Published
December 2000
125 pages
This study examined the use of the post-conviction polygraph examination in a sex offender containment approach through observations, a literature review, a review of relevant case law, and field research.
Building on a 1996 federally funded study describing the case management of adult sex offenders on probation and parole nationwide and the recommendation to use the post-conviction polygraph examination as a component of a containment approach, this study, sponsored by the National Institute of Justice, attempted to answer common questions that arise regarding the use of the post-conviction polygraph in sex offender management: (1) how is the polygraph used in a sex offender containment approach; (2) is its use with convicted sex offenders legal and ethical; (3) is the information admissible in court; (4) is it necessary; and (5) what does its use add to the management of sex offenders? To address these questions, a national telephone survey of over 700 probation and parole supervisors was conducted, post-conviction polygraph examinations were observed, literature reviews on sex offender treatment and victim trauma were undertaken, unpublished documents were reviewed, relevant case law was examined, and field research was conducted in 17 jurisdictions in 7 States (New York, Massachusetts, Texas, Wisconsin, Colorado, Oregon, and California). The analyses supported the findings that use of the post-conviction polygraph is a vital component of the risk management of individual sex offenders for several reasons: (1) additional victims of different genders and different age groups, and with different relationships with the offender were disclosed when offenders participated in the treatment/polygraph process; (2) additional high-risk behaviors, necessary for the ongoing assessment of danger to the public, were disclosed; (3) the analysis of incest offenders underscores the value of the polygraph exam in obtaining information about individual offenders before making risk determinations; and (4) the field research and telephone survey data indicated that many jurisdictions were addressing the challenges associated with the disclosure of additional crimes and victims, often through informal, interagency agreements. Several recommendations were made based on the information presented in this report. Highlights of the recommendations include: (1) stakeholders and others must work together to develop policies and procedures for managing sex offenders who disclose new information; (2) polygraph testing required in the conditions of probation may offer the most options to the court in cases of noncompliance; (3) the disclosure of additional information and the imposition of sanctions should be well documented in the file; (4) it is erroneous and dangerous to characterize sex offenders by their arrest crime or according to one type of victim or offense; and (5) understanding the criminal offending patterns of convicted sex offenders requires obtaining significant amounts of information about each offender’s past crimes to assess risk and provide meaningful treatment and supervision. Tables, appendices A-D, and references

Date Published: December 1, 2000