Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Denver Post questions use of polygraphs in sex offender treatment

Like many states, Colorado relies on polygraphs to determine how sex offenders ought to be treated. In an editorial, the Denver Post calls for a new plan.
The 25 members of the Colorado Sex Offender Management Board need to overhaul their system for assessing the risk of and providing treatment for the state’s many incarcerated sex offenders. 
Never has that been more clear than after reading how dependent the assessment and treatment system is on the use of lie detector tests, known as polygraphs. 
The Denver Post’s Christopher N. Osher reported that Colorado has spent $5 million over seven years on polygraph tests for convicted sex offenders, used as a key part of determining whether these criminals should be eligible for release, and if so what supervision should look like. Often sex offenders are required to take multiple tests over the same subjects if they fail or have inconclusive results, with both the state and the criminals picking up the tab, and they regularly get tested as part of parole. 
We’re inclined to agree with Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling, that “it borders on a scam.”
Courts do not allow polygraph interpretations to be presented in court because lie detectors are unreliable. Why would anyone use an unreliable test to decide anything?

Polygraph technicians, who charge for each polygraph, have a clear motivation to declare test results inconclusive or a flat-out failure. A failed or inconclusive test means more tests when passing a polygraph is required.
We hope that ongoing process will result in new standards that place considerably less importance on lie-detector tests. After all, the 2014 report questioned the very theory that the non-recidivism of sexual offenders was highly predicated on a willingness to admit guilt and take responsibility. [My emphasis, throughout.]
If it isn't clear that admitting guilt and taking responsibility for sex offenses is a way to reduce recidivism of sex offenders, then there should be no pressure on offenders to do so in a polygraph. While some go through treatment in prison, most offenders do so after they have been sentenced and completed that sentence. Their guilt is not in question at that point.
That report also said: “The relevant research literature indicates that the polygraph can attain accuracy of close to 90 percent when testing well-defined single issues. Unfortunately sexual history polygraphs are not well-defined single issues and the accuracy level is likely significantly lower.”
No reason to use a polygraph to force admissions of guilt, no reason to think a sexual history polygraph will be accurate--clearly, it is time to retire the polygraph.

Wait. What's this?

In an earlier article, Osher reported:
Colorado will pay Jeff Jenks’ Wheat Ridge polygraph firm, Amich & Jenks Inc., up to $1.9 million to polygraph sex offenders in prison from 2010 to 2020, according to state contracts.
A couple of million dollars over ten years is nothing to sneeze at, especially for someone selling a test that is unreliable.
Jenks is a member of the Colorado Sex Offender Management Board, a 25-member group that writes the rules on how sex offenders are managed. He has defended the use of polygraphs and also voted on polygraph issues the full board decided. Appointed by the executive director of the Colorado Department of Public Safety in 2008, Jenks’ current term runs until 2020.
Jenks recommends polygraph testing and sells polygraph testing and no one else on the board questioned that?

Clean up your act, Colorado, and stop letting the polygraph business clean up at the expense of sex offenders.