Lie detectors eyed to curb sex offenders

Surveys show nearly half not receiving treatment are likely to repeat offense

Posted: Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Sex offenders may be less tempted to rape or molest again if held accountable by lie detector tests this summer, state corrections officials hope.

The Alaska Department of Corrections wants to join the 38 states already using this treatment and is asking the Legislature to approve its $500,000 annual costs, which will be listed in next year's fiscal year budget.

A team of experts from Colorado, invited by the Corrections Department, explained the program to the Senate Finance Committee on Tuesday.

"It's a 24-hour leash," said Jeff Jenks, a professional polygraph tester who said the method's priority is public safety. Nearly half of offenders not receiving treatment are likely to repeat crimes after release, according to Colorado surveys.

Answers given in the lie detector test can help supervisors treat offenders and hold them accountable to the conditions of their probation or parole.

"The traditional method would be just to accept what they say," said Peggy Heil of the Colorado Corrections Department. "But we are dealing with master manipulators."

Perpetrators are first asked about their sexual history and therapists learn the offender may have up to hundreds of victims, instead of the one or two alleged in court. Kim English, also of the Colorado Corrections Department, said these may include voyeur subjects or children photographed in pornography.

Questioners need to know the age of onset, frequency and extent of crossover behavior to determine patterns. Later violators may be asked about specific cases but the information given will not be used against them, said Jenks.

While monitoring probation and parole, examiners may ask if the offender has looked at pornography recently or has thought about former victims while masturbating - not felonies but behavior that can be warning signs of something else.

Jenks said perpetrators told him they were tempted to commit crimes after release but were deterred by the next polygraph test.

In Colorado, only 1 percent of offenders who completed the treatment in both prison and on parole were arrested for a violent crime one year after discharged from parole.

Regardless of the Legislature's approval, a pilot program will begin in July in which 30 to 40 offenders from Southcentral Alaska will be monitored. Every six months they will take a test.

"You would be surprised how non-confrontational it is," said Jenks, who has done over 34,000 tests in his career. Participants are not given pop questions but ones explained at length before the quiz begins.

Some offenders on probation will be asked to pay for the lie detector tests, amounting to $250 per session, said Deputy Commissioner Portia Parker.

The Alaska Corrections Department still has no treatment program for inmates with sexual violations. A program was discontinued in 2003 after the department reviewed and found it expensive and only successful with 5 percent of offenders.

Legislators said they might support the program if it saves the state money.

• Andrew Petty can be reached at andrew.petty@juneauempire.com



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