My stomach flip-flopped as I climbed the steps at the Allegheny County Courthouse almost two months ago. The vise was tightening. Psychological torture. Control device. Others call it rehabilitation and just a monitoring tool. Just a difference of opinion? This isn’t about lies. This is about the machine and its use and interpretations.
When I explain the sex offender program and the use of polygraphs and their effect, people are disbelieving. If it’s not admissible in court, how can they impose it? Rehabilitation or coercion? No consideration of the errors in judgment inherent to humans? Is any other group forced into such rehabilitation programs? Those who claim innocence are pushed and squeezed into the box. What is the advice of attorneys? Just give them what they want. Make life easier on yourself. There seems something so terribly rotten and even corrupt in a system that encourages people to lie. Save yourself the consequences. Take a deal because you might not win and the consequences of fighting are more severe than dealing. Just give them what they want. Because the truth isn’t necessarily what they want. ‘They’ meaning ‘we’ the they represent. And this is my opinion of using a test that the court won’t accept. A test that is so contested. And no, I never thought or researched polygraphs until it affected someone close.
What does the sex offender and probation program rely upon heavily in Allegheny County? Polygraphs. And what do those relying on its use say? One said 100% reliability and used everywhere. That person needs to do some research. So the program is relying on a machine created by, operated by, and interpreted by a human being. And that is the way with all machines. Sometimes they don’t give us the right answers. Is it them or human error? And the polygraph is inadmissible in Pennsylvania courts. What does that say?
“Illogical,” claim some in “Lie detector tests being used to monitor sex offenders and guide treatment. (Read the responses that you may likely discount as coming from offenders.) Few have sympathy for the convicted and any labeled sex offenders. But sex offenders have been found innocent on DNA evidence after years of incarceration. No DNA or evidence collected against my son. And probation calls the polygraph a tool of rehabilitation and monitoring. A tool to ‘return this convicted to society a better person than when he/she entered into the system. I think those were the words or at least the gist of what I heard from the judge. Do you believe that?
How many crime shows have you watched and heard the words, “Are you willing to take a polygraph?” Why would you? Whether spoken or unspoken, you are being manipulated with the persuasion that an innocent person would jump at the chance. The person with nothing to hide would strap up willingly. But you are in the most stressful situation of your life not making good decisions. Not considering that those asking probably believe in your guilt. Those administering probably think you’re guilty. Agreeing to using something many attest is unreliable. And how is it going to help? Are they just going to release you or drop charges if you pass? Or will they come up with explanations of why a guilty person passed? Guilty people pass and innocent people fail. I am certain of that.
And in the probation system, there is money to be made in Pennsylvania. And anecdotally polygraphers are often ex-law enforcement. The results of a pass may be used by a defense attorney for reduced charges or deals. If inconclusive, then just a waste of time and money. If a fail, then used to coerce a confession. The machine called you a liar. Man with machine against man or woman. “Are you willing to take a polygraph?” “NO.” Guilty or innocent. “NO.”
In probation and the sex offender program, you can’t say ‘NO’. Well, you can. But saying ‘NO’ has consequences. Refusal of anything asked of you has consequences. Your choice really is bad or worse. Passing a denial polygraph has possibilities of getting you out of portions of the program. So you hope for little things. It doesn’t reverse your conviction. It doesn’t get you off probation. Short-term benefits. It doesn’t call your accuser a liar when you pass. It only will help you if the machine tells the truth. And if it does, you’ll use it without having faith in it. That’s what you hope for. Pragmatism. That is what lawyers are preaching. Pragmatism.
And what is the result of a pass, fail and inconclusive all on the same test? The court and polygrapher call it a failure. I call it a failure too. Inconsistent. A failure of the machine and polygrapher. How is it that anyone relies on such a thing? How can you believe in anything that machine says? I don’t call this a useful tool. I call it a money-maker. I call it the lazy man’s way. I call it relying on chance of misinformation. I call it our belief we are inferior to a machine. I call it a perpetuation of mistakes.
And if I was required to take a polygraph as part of the employment process? I would take it if I wanted the job. And I would hope the machine wouldn’t lie. And if I were asked in a legal situation? I would refuse.
Headline in Los Angeles Times dated January 13, 2017. Article from the Associated Press:
Portrait of a man most of us would trust based on his resume of military service and security clearances. The polygraph calls him a liar. This man went home “with my tail between my legs”. Is that the effect craved when strapping up your applicant? Routing liars? It’s a living. For all the articles claiming high reliability, you can find one with the opposing view. Not comforting to see this relied-upon tool contested. So failure means you don’t get the job. Ask yourself then. How many truthful applicants did we turn away and how many liars did we hire? But this isn’t even about lies. This is about the machine and its answers and basing decisions on it.
So what is the article suggesting may be the reason for the failure rate?
Inexperience taking a polygraph. Do you need experience learning to tell the truth?
Blame the applicant. They aren’t quality applicants.
Hostility from the examiner. They’ve already formed an opinion or they’re just enjoying control over another person.
Doctored results. A test to root out corruption and bribery tainted by just those things in examiners and polygraph companies. There is irony in that possibility.
Or is the answer easier? The test is unreliable, and we damage people using it.