The Use of Polygraph in Sex Offender Treatment

The treatment and supervision of sex offenders is a complex field that involves numerous agencies and individuals implementing a variety of strategies based on research and best practices. Post-conviction polygraph exams are one tool among many used by those who supervise, manage and treat sex offenders.

Before detailing the topic of polygraphs, let's first clarify the primary agencies involved in sex offender treatment and management.

Overview of Agency Responsibilities -- Who Does What?

The Sex Offender Management Board (SOMB) is responsible for developing the Standards and Guidelines for the Assessment, Evaluation, Treatment and Behavioral Monitoring of Adult Sex Offenders as well as well as the Standards and Guidelines for the Evaluation, Assessment, Treatment and Supervision of Juveniles Who Have Committed Sexual Offenses. The SOMB does not provide treatment or supervision to offenders, nor does it decide the fate of individual sex offenders, the purpose of the SOMB is to prescribe clear best practice for providers who treat and manage sex offenders so that offenders can be successful in reducing their risk of recidivism.

The Colorado Department of Corrections (DOC) is responsible for providing evaluation and sex offense specific treatment to offenders who have been sentenced to the DOC and those who are on parole. Offenders in the Sex Offender Treatment and Monitoring Program (SOTMP) work toward meeting the Lifetime Supervision treatment progress criteria that correspond with their risk for sexual recidivism in order to meet parole board release criteria. The SOTMP provides treatment for an average of 450 offenders at a time.

The Division of Youth Services, housed in the Department of Human Services, is responsible for providing treatment to juveniles who have committed sexual offenses.

The Judicial Department is responsible for administering the Sex Offender Intensive Supervision Program (SOISP) which monitors adult felony sex offenders who have been sentenced to probation. Once an offender meets the requirements of SOISP, they are transferred to non-SOISP probation for the remainder of their sentence. The Department also offers financial assistance from the Sex Offender Surcharge Fund to cover the cost of evaluations for indigent sex offenders.

Utility of the Polygraph:

Treatment and supervision programs utilize post-conviction polygraph examinations to support offender honesty and accountability as well as verify compliance with treatment and supervision. It also assists treatment providers in determining the specific risks and needs of the offender.

The 2012 evaluation of the DOC SOTMP and 2014 evaluation of the SOMB recommended fully implementing the Risk, Needs, Responsivity model (RNR). The RNR model relies on accurate identification of offender risk for sexual recidivism in order to recommend the appropriate level of treatment. The polygraph examination assists treatment providers in identifying specific risks and needs of each individual offender. Overall, the polygraph is an adjunct tool to determine accountability as well as the risk an offender may pose to the community.

Colorado is very careful not to overuse or over-rely on polygraph as it is just one component of an offender's treatment. The Standards and Guidelines emphasize that polygraph is one form of behavioral monitoring among many, and that the results of polygraph examination should not be used in isolation. It is also very important to note that polygraph is used as a treatment tool, not an investigative tool.

If polygraph exams were to be limited or even fully eliminated, it would be more difficult to assess the risk of an offender and for the treatment team to identify an adequate treatment plan for the offender. In addition, more resources would likely have to be dedicated towards monitoring offenders to ensure that they are in compliance with terms and conditions of their parole or probation. Additional resources could include, but would not be limited to: additional victim services, additional sex offense specific therapy, GPS tracking in the community, computer and/or cell phone monitoring, and additional home visits and direct community monitoring.

Commonly Asked Questions:

How much does the polygraph cost?

  • While the cost of polygraph examinations may vary by jurisdiction, a typical exam costs $250.

How much does Colorado spend on polygraph exams for sex offenders?

  • In FY 2016, DHS spent approximately $29,670 on polygraph exams.
  • In FY 2016, the Judicial Department spent $488,414 on polygraph exams. This was paid out of the Offender Services Fund.
  • In FY 2016, the SOTMP spent approximately $225,050 on polygraph exams.
  • In FY 2016, DOC Parole spent a total of $404,315 on polygraph exams.

How many sex offenders does each agency oversee?

  • In FY 2016, 164 juveniles were receiving Sex Offense Specific treatment within DYS. Of these 164 juveniles, 73 were required to take polygraph tests.
  • As of June 30, 2017, there were approximately 2,698 adult sex offenders on probation (including SOISP and non-SOISP offenders).
    • In addition, 361 juveniles serving probation sentences have committed sex offenses and are also required to take polygraph tests.
  • In FY 2016, 2,314 indeterminate sex offenders were under DOC supervision. They made up 8.9% of the total DOC offender population. Determinant sex offenders made up 17.8% of the total DOC offender population.

How often must a sex offender take a polygraph exam?

  • The Adult Standards and Guidelines require a polygraph examination every six months, however, there is variability for those in advanced levels of treatment. The SOMB established the Adult Polygraph Standards Revisions Committee to address some overly prescriptive language in the Standards. Among the topics being discussed is prescribed frequency of exams.
  • The Juvenile Standards and Guidelines require the Multidisciplinary Team (MDT) to determine the appropriate frequency of polygraph testing based on risk and need, as well as how the polygraph will be used to inform treatment.

What is the availability of treatment providers?

  • There are currently 287 adult SOMB approved treatment providers as well as 197 juvenile SOMB approved treatment providers.
    • Of these, there are 29 adult SOMB approved polygraph providers and 20 juvenile SOMB approved polygraph providers.

Additional Information:

  • It is expressly prohibited for sex offenders to have their parole or probation revoked due to a finding of deception on a polygraph exam. Parole and probation revocation is generally related to treatment non-compliance and/or concerning behavior in the community, some of which may be identified through pre- and post-polygraph disclosures by the offender.