The Uphill Slide

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Sex Offender Programs

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A guy said he couldn’t wait to take a denial polygraph. He took a deal so what was the denial polygraph going to do for him? It’s not used in Pennsylvania courts so the real use of this non-definitive tool may be a bit unclear or even arbitrary. Yet it is used by lawyers and parole officers and sex offender counselors in the justice system. It is used in the workplace for certain types of employment.

If we believed in the reliability and accuracy of this device, it would be accepted in courts. We could use a machine to decide the fate of suspects. Hook up the suspect, then throw open the door or slam it shut based on the results. It is one of those things we might like if it goes in our favor whether we are on the side of the accused or the accuser.

For parole, I think they call it a tool in their arsenal, an expensive tool. It’s not like buying a wrench or a hammer, but more like buying a good miter saw. A tool paid for by the offender. Is the idea to keep offenders forever in debt to the company store, those offenders who are very often unemployed, partially employed or under-employed. Anyway, it’s a tool that parole officers and counselors may use to save leg work and try to reinforce their specialized training, which may, in fact, be even more unreliable than that less than reliable machine. Is the polygraph a tool for measuring bodily responses or a tool for guilting and instilling fear? I don’t think it is just felons who fear this machine. When once I might have quite willingly submitted to this testing for employment, I might now object to its use.

Three years ago, I never thought about programs for sex offenders or whether programs are effective. Now I consider that such programs are perhaps grappling in the dark in some sort of experimentation and no one has the answer to what works since there are so many variables in so many crimes lumped together. My view of the program in Allegheny County is colored by Jacob’s case and belief in innocence. So what might I think of this program eliminating him from consideration? A few months ago I watched a show about a mentoring program in another state that was having positive effects. The focus of this program was to bring offenders into the community believing that would have a more positive effect than ostracizing offenders forcing them into the dark corners where we could try to avoid them. We are not only avoiding them, but what they are doing might well be hidden from us. I think about these things not just from the perspective of a mother of an accused but with the knowledge of a victim.

The sex offender court in Allegheny County is relatively new (2009) with judges and parole officers specially trained to handle such cases. In fact, someone told me that Jacob’s PO is new to this program. Not having dealt with POs ever before, I have no yardstick to measure him against. But I question the extent of his specialized training. It’s strange that the county has only a couple judges handling sex offense cases; at the beginning of Jacob’s case, a lawyer said it was not usual to have all sex offense cases handled by only a few judges, most cases are rotated in the court. This was before I began to learn more and more about sex offender court. But there is again a question in my mind about that special training. Recent news articles report that Judge McDaniels sentences are being reviewed by her own colleagues. So is this a result of lack of training or some type of crusade?

And here from Will Lie Detectors Ever Get Their Day in Court Again by Matt Stroud in February 2, 2015 in  Bloomberg

Questioning structures such as the Guilty Knowledge Test have sought to standardize the interrogation format, but administering a polygraph hasn’t changed much since 1935. Even the professor himself allowed that the polygraph wasn’t foolproof, telling jurors at the original Wisconsin trial that his test was about 75 percent accurate. Decades later it’s still up to the examiner to ask effective questions and to interpret the output accurately; there are good polygraph examiners and there are bad polygraph examiners.

“The political and legal argument some make in favor of the polygraph is that it’s very accurate depending on who the examiner is,” says Dr. Judith G. Edersheim, co-director of Harvard’s Center for Law, Brain & Behavior. “But for a scientist, saying it’s examiner-dependent means it’s not reliable.”

And here in the same artiicle is what the Supreme Court ruled on polygraphs:

Skeptical scientists have kept the U.S. judicial system from widely embracing the polygraph. The U.S. Supreme Court took up the question of lie detector admissibility in a 1998 case, United States v. Scheffer. A military court had decided that exclusion of polygraph evidence violated the Sixth Amendment right to present a defense. The high court disagreed: “A fundamental premise of our criminal justice system is that ‘the jury is the lie detector.’” While experts who testify about fingerprints or ballistics can weigh in on matters related to the question of guilt or innocence, a lie detector purports to answer it: Is this person lying or not? Since the polygraph is not consistent or perfect, the high court ruled it out of bounds.

http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/107906320501700210

 

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