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Tennessee Discontinues Polygraph Tests as Sex Offender Supervision Tool

Legal concerns have led the Tennessee Board of Probation and Parole (BOPP) to order probation officers to discontinue the use of polygraphs, better known as lie detector tests, in their supervision of sex offenders.

Polygraphs are to be used for treatment purposes only, said Gary Tullock, director of field services for the BOPP. Probation officers were asked years ago to ensure that sex offenders took at least one polygraph test a year. That led officers to believe they had the authority to question sex offenders about their compliance with parole and probation conditions during their polygraphs.

“Over the course of time, some officers thought it was part of supervision, not treatment,” said Tullock. “Our attorneys say we can’t do that. We can’t force someone to take a polygraph and incriminate themselves.”

Psychologists, counselors and other treatment providers use polygraph tests to formulate a treatment plan that ad-dresses an offender’s problems. “It motivates them to be truthful,” stated Dr. Donna Moore, a psychologist in Brentwood, Tennessee. “And if they’re not truthful, that’s obviously something we need to work on in treatment, too.”

Some, however, believe polygraphs should continue to be used in the supervision of sex offenders. “If officers feel it was a useful tool, I hate to hear it’s no longer going to be available,” said Tom Tohill, president of the Nashville-based Sexual Assault Center. “If the probation officers thought that was helping them, it seems to me it could be a pretty good resource.”

Polygraphs tests are used by treatment providers to encourage sex offenders to tell the truth about behavior and desires they may consider private or shameful. If such tests are used to question offenders about compliance with the terms of their supervision, that can undermine treatment goals.

PLN has previously reported on various problems and shortcomings associated with polygraph tests, which are not admissible as evidence in court. [See: PLN, Oct. 2010, p.1; Dec. 2008, p.1].

Source: The Tennessean

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