Sex offenders living in the community could be made to take compulsory lie detector tests to help predict if they could reoffend, the Belfast Telegraph can reveal.
The Strategic Management Board of the Public Protection Agency Northern Ireland has said it is interested in the outcome of a pilot scheme currently running in England and Wales to see the benefits in using polygraph tests to manage the risk posed by sex offenders living in the province.
Currently 906 convicted sex offenders — who have been deemed as posing some level of risk to the public — are being risk managed within the community in Northern Ireland.
If legislation is introduced the tests will become a compulsory requirement for sex offenders released from prison under community and probation orders.
The tests could help predict if the offender is about to reoffend, build up a picture of past offences that may have gone undetected and possibly be used to strengthen evidence.
Assistant Chief Constable Duncan McCausland, chairman of the Strategic Management Board of the Public Protection Agency Northern Ireland (PPANI), told the Belfast Telegraph that the agencies which operate PPANI are aware that polygraph testing is being piloted in England and Wales and that they are interested in the outcome.
“Naturally they will be interested in the outcome of the trials in terms of the potential use of polygraphy in the management of the risk posed by sex offenders. However, any decision on its use in Northern Ireland would be a matter for the Government as legislation would be required,” he added.
The controversial polygraph tests, which are considered to be 90% accurate, can detect when people are lying by measuring changes in breathing, heart rate and sweating.
Rather than viewing the polygraph as a lie detector, the authorities prefer to view it as a ‘truth facilitator’ as they believe the threat of polygraphy testing is often enough to make offenders own up about victims and offences.
Evidence from the polygraph would be used as part of an overall assessment as to the risk an offender presents to the public or to specific individuals.
UUP MLA John McCallister said he is enthusiastic about the potential use of lie detectors in managing sex offenders.
“Anything that could help manage the risk posed by sex offenders would be very welcome. The public have many concerns about sex offenders living in their communities but they have to live somewhere and if polygraph testing can help keep the public safe than I think it would be a very good thing,” he added.
Two trials of polygraph testing are currently running in the East and West Midlands Probation regions under a clause in the Management of Offenders and Sentencing Bill.
There is currently no provision within the Criminal Justice Order Northern Ireland for the introduction of polygraph testing in the province so new legislation would need to be introduced.
Sex offenders are routinely polygraphed in many US states and it is often a mandatory condition of probation or parole. In most European jurisdictions polygraphs are still not considered reliable evidence and are not generally used.
However, a study carried out by Professor Don Grubin, professor of Forensic Psychiatry at Newcastle University, found that “the evidence for accuracy and utility, although not definitive, is sufficient to justify the use of post conviction sex offender testing.”
His study, published by the British Psychological Society, concludes: “Whatever the pros and cons of polygraph use in other settings, PCSOT (post conviction sex offender testing) can make a valuable contribution to sex offender treatment and management.”