How the Polygraph Helps Protect Society From Sex Offenders

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I was contacted today by a Solicitor who provides professional development training for the legal profession in England. He was enquiring into the background of the programme for managing sex offenders post-conviction, when they are released from custody early, on licence, or managed in the community when a non-custodial sentence is imposed.

This is part of the Home Office/National Offender Management Service (formerly the Probation Service) programme on sex offender management in which offenders are either polygraphed as part of the conditions on their early release licence (mandatory) or voluntarily by convicted offenders who have not received a custodial sentence and are being managed in the community.

The programme started around 3 years ago following a pilot study on offenders in prison which was designed and managed by Professor Don Grubin who is an Emeritus Professor at the Institute of Nuroscience at Newcastle University. He was later awarded the NOMS contract to train probation officers in the use of the polygraph and manage them in their testing of sex offenders.

The contract was renewed last year for a further 2/3 years. I have attended a couple of pre-contract meetings at the NOMs head office in London where (at the time) the programme was being discussed and the impetus was not particularly on gaining information from examinees on their possible continued offending behaviour, with the intention of further charges or return to prison but more focused on identifying new victims, so that they can be traced, protected and supported.

The programme model (polygraph testing of high risk sex offenders) was a replica of one that has been operating in the USA for the past 15/16 years where they have been very successful in reducing reoffending. Of course we deal with it slightly differently here. In the USA the offenders once released on licence have to attend polygraph testing every 3 months for the first year and then if assessed as being a reduced risk, every 6 months until their licence expires. They also have to pay for their own tests. Another difference is that if an examinee fails the polygraph in the USA they are routinely returned to prison and may suffer an extended sentence.

Over here in the UK, we still have the 3 and 6 month testing periods, the examinees do not have to pay for the test and the results, if negative (failed test) are taken into account with other information held by NOMs in deciding to action a recall or more frequent testing. I believe that so far about 50 offenders have been returned to prison on recall in the UK as a result.

Don and others published two papers in 2017 – Gonadotrophin-releasing hormone aganist treatment for sexual offenders: A systematic review and Health characteristics of older police custody detainees in London UK.

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