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Domestic Abuse Offenders Face Lie Detector Tests

Domestic abuse offenders in England and Wales could face compulsory lie detector tests when released from prison under proposed new legislation.

Provisions in the Domestic Abuse Bill 2020 will enable the Secretary of State for Justice to impose mandatory polygraph examinations on high risk perpetrators of domestic abuse.  The legislation will require those who meet the eligibility criteria to take a polygraph test 3 months after being released from custody and every 6 months thereafter.  The proposed tests would be used to help determine the risk of an offender released into the community, or more specifically, their compliance with conditions of release and to improve the management of offenders after their release.

Polygraph tests measure respiratory rate, sweat gland activity and cardiovascular activity to determine whether deception is involved.  Offenders subject to testing will not be recalled to custody for failing a polygraph test but could be recalled for making disclosures during the test that reveal they have breached other licence conditions or that their risk has escalated to a level whereby they cannot be managed safely within the community.

Those failing a test can be tested more frequently, be given a formal warning or be subject to further licence conditions.  Offenders who refuse to take the test or try to trick it can be recalled to custody.

Whilst these new provisions are welcomed by many, questions have inevitably been asked about the reliability of polygraph results, which are not admissible in English Courts as they do not meet the standards for admissible scientific evidence.

Polygraphs can produce false results and some participants are able to use mental and physical countermeasures to reduce the accuracy of risk, such as controlled breathing and relaxation techniques.  Research suggests that even correctly conducted polygraph tests are only 70 to 90 percent accurate.  However, it is not intended that the polygraph is used as a substitute for other forms of risk assessment but more as an additional source of information for Probation Officers supervising offenders.

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