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Normal Topic Tennessee Probation Officers Directed to Stop Ordering Polygraphs for Sex Offenders (Read 8470 times)
George W. Maschke
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Tennessee Probation Officers Directed to Stop Ordering Polygraphs for Sex Offenders
Dec 8th, 2010 at 4:10pm
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A positive development.


TN probation officers must stop using polygraphs in sex offender supervision
Use of lie detector tests is supposed to be limited to treatment purposes

Tennessee probation officers who used polygraph testing popularly known as lie detector tests in their supervision of sex offenders were told to stop in July because of legal concerns.

But some probation officers see it as a useful tool and wish they could use it.

Gary Tullock, director of field services for the Board of Probation and Parole, said the use of polygraph tests is supposed to be limited to treatment purposes only. For years, however, probation officers were asked to ensure sex offenders were taking at least one lie-detector test a year.

Some officers took this to mean they had the authority to order tests themselves and have sex offenders questioned about whether they were meeting the conditions of their probation or parole, Tullock said.

"Over the course of time, some officers thought it was part of supervision, not treatment," he said. "Our attorney says we can't do that. We can't force somebody to take a polygraph and incriminate themselves."

While judges warned the board about the failure of polygraph tests to meet evidentiary standards, Tullock said some probation officers thought the tests were helpful.

"You might be able to make a case for that, except you can't make a case for it constitutionally," Tullock said.

In treatment, polygraph tests are used as an incentive for offenders to tell the truth about behavior and desires that they may consider private or shameful. The tests allow psychologists, counselors and other providers to create a suitable treatment plan tailored to an offender's problems.

"It motivates them to be truthful," said Dr. Donna Moore, a Brentwood psychologist, "and if they're not truthful, that's obviously something we need to work on in treatment, too."

Issue Raises Concern

Tom Tohill, president of the Nashville-based Sexual Assault Center, said the change in course concerns him. He said polygraph tests could be just as useful to probation officers determining what to monitor and watch out for, even if the test results can't be used in court.

"I don't quite understand what that has to do with the way people are supervised," Tohill said. "If officers feel it was a useful tool, I hate to hear it's no longer going to be available. If the probation officers thought that was helping them, it seems to me that could be a pretty good resource."

Joyce Lukima, vice president of services at the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, said polygraph testing is used widely across the country in treatment and supervision.

A 2006 federal appeals court ruling upheld the state of New York's use of polygraph testing to supervise and monitor a sex offender's probation.

Mark Adler, presiding officer of the Tennessee Sex Offender Treatment Board, said the use of polygraph tests in the supervision of offenders can undermine their effectiveness in treatment if patients are worried about what they say possibly being used against them.

"I don't want to be confused with getting them into more trouble," Moore said.

Contact Brandon Gee at 615-726-5982 or

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Re: Tennessee Probation Officers Directed to Stop Ordering Polygraphs for Sex Offenders
Reply #1 - Aug 24th, 2016 at 10:22pm
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Did you know that TN is reinstated the polygraph for sex offender on Jan of 2016
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