I hear rumours that the Government is planning to introduce lie detectors, or polygraphs, into the equation when determining if a sex offender is ready to be released into the community.

OMG! What next?

And exactly how will it work?  There are several thousand sex offenders in prison convicted of a variety of offences from simply viewing underage porn on the Internet, all the way up the scale to rapists and murderers.  Presumably each and every one would be subjected to a lie detector test.  So a whole new layer of testers would have to be grafted onto an already overloaded prison system to administer these tests and report their findings back to whomever is remotely interested.

And more to the point, do they work, and are they foolproof? The answer to both questions is a resounding NO.  If you have a spare three weeks with absolutely nothing else to do, Google ‘polygraph’ and you will get 358,000 search results.  A fair proportion of these question the reliability of lie detectors, and rightly so. Interestingly, there are some websites specialising in how to beat a lie detector test, in much the same way as Damien Lewis in ‘Homeland’.

Sex offenders get special treatment in prison.  They are kept apart from other prisoners, and are subjected to a barrage of courses designed to ‘cure’ them of their perverse predilections. So called experts crawl all over them from the day they first enter the prison system to the day they leave, and where prisoners have received a sentence of 4 years or more, they are at the mercy of the Parole Board before they can be released.  These experts range from social workers, psychologists and pyschiatrists, through to landing officers, the governor and Uncle Tom Cobblers.  They are poked and prodded and pushed and shoved throughout their entire incarceration, so that when they present themselves before the Parole Board, they are squeaky clean in mind, body and soul.

But if these rumours are to be believed, this is not enough, so bring on the polygraph. Even if such degrading treatment does not infringe the offender’s human rights, it is bound to be a stressful experience, and stress is the one indicator above all others that the polygraph is designed to record.

Finally, to ensure that the offender has a fair hearing in front of the Parole Board, if he had failed the polygraph test, as his legal adviser I would require a second opinion from an expert, and possibly a retest, adding further to time and expense and, almost inevitably, a postponement of his hearing.  Booking a Parole Board hearing within a reasonable time frame simply doesn’t happen, and in my experience, the time frame is usually 18 months from postponement to rehearing.

Nobody wants a sex offender to be released into the community to commit further sex offences, but no system devised can provide an iron clad guarantee.  The system presently in place is good enough if followed correctly, and adding a lie detector test will achieve nothing.  Worse still, it may lead to an injustice.

Leave well alone!

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David is an English barrister, writer, public performer and keynote speaker. His full profile can be found on his website.

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