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Forensic psychologists’ research could lead to national polygraph testing for sex offenders

Research findings from a team of forensic psychologists at the University could lead to the use of polygraph testing of sex offenders being adopted nationally.

Researchers from Centre of Research and Education in Forensic Psychology (CORE-FP) conducted a two-year evaluation of a pilot scheme involving the use of polygraph testing to increase disclosures made by sex offenders to probation staff.

Their findings highlighting the success of the pilot polygraph scheme for sex offenders were published yesterday by the Ministry of Justice Research Series.

The pilot polygraph scheme took place across the East and West Midlands probation areas from April 2009 to October 2011. Seven other probation areas where polygraph testing was not implemented were also monitored to see if pilot polygraph testing really did increase the admissions made by sex offenders to probation staff.

The Kent researchers, led by Dr Theresa Gannon and Dr Jane Wood, found overwhelming evidence to suggest that sex offenders supervised in the pilot polygraph scheme made more disclosures about their risk.

Dr Gannon said: ‘For instance, those taking part in the pilot project made more disclosures about entering an exclusion zone or contact with children than sex offenders supervised under normal probation conditions.

‘We found that the polygraph pilot was effective for a whole range of sex offenders, and perhaps most significantly, sex offenders themselves reported finding the polygraph useful for helping them to manage their behaviour in the future.

‘We are pleased to see that our research evaluation is being seriously discussed by government ministers. The research findings clearly show that the polygraph increases communication between sex offenders and probation staff which has to be a good thing for the community.’

The Kent research team successfully tendered to evaluate the pilot scheme for sex offenders for the Ministry of Justice over a two-year period. The other members of the CORE-FP team were: Dr Afroditi Pina, Dr Eduardo Vasquez and Professor Iain Fraser of the University’s School of Economics.

Dr Theresa Gannon is one of the world’s leading authorities in forensic psychology and both male and female sexual offending, having written over 100 book chapters, journals and edited books on these topics. She treats convicted sexual offenders and arsonists on a weekly basis. Dr Jane Wood has extensive experience of researching the effectiveness of offender rehabilitation and resettlement in the community.

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Last Updated: 14/08/2012