Sunday, May 17, 2015

polygraphs serve law enforcement, not therapy

Registered sex offenders on parole, probation, or supervised release are regularly subjected to polygraph testing.
Under Pennsylvania law, polygraph results are not admissible at trial because of their unreliability. 
Despite that, the tests are now being used by probation officers across the state to supervise sex offenders.
“It’s really the gold standard,” said Allegheny County Common Pleas Judge Jill E. Rangos, who presides over sex offender court. “It is the most accurate way to gauge if treatment is working.”
"Accurate" is an odd word to use when talking about polygraphs. "Treatment" is an odd word to use when talking about probation officers supervising sex offenders.
The tests, advocates say, are designed to help guide an offender’s treatment, to ensure that the offender is following the rules of probation and to reduce recidivism.
Well, no. If there is one thing polygraphs are not meant to do, it is to guide treatment plans. That is what the therapist does. Why therapists don't rise up in protest at having their skills second-guessed by electrodes in the hands of law enforcement, I do not know, unless it is that having a steady stream of paying clients fed to them is more attractive than ethical treatment.

Using polygraphs to reduce recidivism is particularly bizarre. The recidivism rate of sex offenders is already extremely low. 
David Gentile, a psychologist and approved treatment provider in sex offender court, said the polygraph examinations hold defendants accountable for their behavior while on probation. 
As an approved treatment provider, Gentile benefits from the stream of clients mandated to engage in therapy.
Jane Campbell Moriarty, a law professor at Duquesne University, said allowing the use of polygraph evidence in some court proceedings but not in others is illogical.  
“I would disagree with any court letting it in for any reason.”  ...
She is critical of polygraph exams, primarily because they are so subjective, and there are not yet any scientifically accepted methods and standards for administration. 
Among her concerns, Ms. Moriarty has asked examiners if others who administer polygraph tests could interpret their results, and the answer she’s received is no.   
They have come into accepted use in probation cases, she said, because, “I think we’re just terrified of sexual offenders. 
Fear of sex offenders is driven by the sex offender registry. If there were no registry and its label, we would be talking about specific offenders and their specific offenses. Rape, not sex offenders. Public urination, not sex offenders. Sexting teenagers, not sex offenders. Without the registry, we would not be terrified of sex offenders.
“It seems inappropriate to me that their liberties should be taken away because of a test that we find neither sufficiently valid nor reliable to be used at trial,” Ms. Moriarty said. 
Polygraphs are clearly unreliable. Polygraphs are clearly not about therapy. Polygraphs used to monitor sex offenders are clearly about taking away their liberties.

It is appalling that treatment providers allow law enforcement to use them as snitches and enforcers instead of providing effective therapy--uncoupled from law enforcement--for those who need it.

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