By Christopher N. Osher . . . Colorado has spent more than $5 million to administer polygraphs on convicted sex offenders over the last seven years despite concerns that the tests are so unreliable they can’t be used as evidence during civil or criminal trials.
Polygraphs help officials decide which prisoners convicted of sex offenses are suited for release from prison by probing their sexual history, attitudes about their crimes and whether they are committing new offenses. They also guide how offenders on parole or probation are supervised.
“The polygraph really gives useful information,” said Lenny Woodson, administrator for the Colorado Department of Corrections’ Sex Offender Treatment and Monitoring Program. “And we’ve made it clear in our standards that it isn’t to be used in isolation. We’re using as many avenues as possible to make treatment decisions.”
Studies show that up to 70 percent of U.S. states polygraph sex offenders, but experts have testified that Colorado uses the tests aggressively, even polygraphing juvenile offenders for consensual sexting. Critics contend an entrenched and profitable cottage industry, rife with conflicts of interests, has grown up around polygraphing sex offenders in Colorado.
“To me, there is no question that it borders on a scam,” said Senate President pro tem Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling. “We incentivize the people who give the polygraph tests to have inconclusive results so an offender has to go back and pay for another one on a more regular basis.”
Colorado’s polygraphing is “grossly excessive,” said Deirdre D’Orazio, a psychologist who serves as an expert on a high-risk sex-offender task force in California, during testimony in federal court in Denver in 2015. D’Orazio led a team of consultants that issued a report for the Colorado department of corrections in 2013 blasting how it manages sex offenders and how it uses polygraphs.
She returned to the state to testify for Howard Alt, then 51, who a decade earlier was convicted for having sex with a 15-year-old girl and possessing nude computer images of teenage girls.
After his release from prison, Alt had taken 28 polygraphs, often with competing results. The treatment provider that tested Alt had a “fiduciary incentive conflict” to fail him, D’Orazio said. The firm was “making money on outcomes that are not in the offender client’s favor” by requiring him to pay for more tests and treatment, she said.
A deceptive finding on one sex-history polygraph had prompted supervision officials to bar Alt, a former software developer, from accepting a job that would raise his salary from $60,000 to $200,000 annually. Months later, the polygrapher found Alt to be truthful on the same questions even though he did not change his answers, showing the sanction against him was unwarranted, D’Orazio said.
“It is not a scientifically valid procedure,” D’Orazio testified. “It has a high false-positive rate, which means misclassifying people who are telling the truth as being deceitful. So there is a lot of controversy about using the polygraph in high-stakes decisions.”
Even Alt’s supervised-release officer said he had worked hard to learn from his past crimes. He was contrite after serving six years in prison. He was free of new transgressions, with tracking software on his computer monitoring his compliance. He had re-established relationships with his former wife and his daughter, according to testimony.
“I had thought that clearing a poly and having a deceptive poly were similar to a drug test, where you either have a drug in your system or you don’t have a drug in your system,” the supervised release officer, Lisa Pence, testified. “It has been an education that it’s not.”
Please continue reading this article in the Denver Post.
6 Thoughts to “Five million dollars for voodoo science? Colorado?”
Comments are closed.
This is not just about the polygraphs themselves, this also has to do a lot with probation (and parole, although I don’t bring up parole because it’s a privilege you earn while incarcerated).
Probation FORCES clients with sex offenses to take polygraphs. If you refuse, you get violated.
The way the probation dept handled people with sex offenses HAS to change. And the excuses they use to justify their reasons for how they treat sex offenders NEEDS to be challenged.
My probation officers (I’ve had 8 during this 10 yr probation stunt) have all said they don’t see me as a threat due to the circumstances of my case. Yet, I still can’t go to a mall or movie theater (as if I’ve never done that in my entire life) without someone who is my ‘approved supervisor’ such as a friend or relative that probation has met with.
Probation officers will claim “We’re looking out for YOUR safety, too”. “What if someone claims you touched them even if you didn’t? You’ve got a sex offended conviction. Who are the police going to believe?”
Ok, well then, Mr/Miss probation officer, are you saying that kids/adults just go around making false accusations about random people in shopping malls and movie theaters? If that’s the case, such a thing could also happen to YOU. So I guess we should all never go to malls or movie theaters. Let them all close down.
It’s truly ridiculous!!
CO: Professional polygrapher holds position of power on state’s sex-offender treatment board
They will not change at all with a show in force in DC! PERIOD!
If they seriously believed in their polygraphs, they would use them equally; meaning they would use them on alleged victims as well. Alas, they do not and the reason for that is, if it were true that a machine could read someone’s mind, they would be using the machine to further a conviction as they often do with “eye-witnesses” (not that they are much more reliable than a polygraph machine). The polygraph test results of a victim would be used as proof that the victim was not lying, however, the test results of neither are allowed in the court room.
The polygraph machine was already proven to be complete and utter garbage. The creator of the machine even admitted that the machine could not determine “truthfulness”. The machine was tested on a common house plant and actually gave a result??? This is pure snake oil sales and needs to be discontinued – period!
I recently wrote to the indiana aclu about this very issue. I have been unable to pass a polygraph the entire time I’ve been on supervision. I believe that it’s largely due to my anxiety disorder. Its incredibly unfair to face a violation when the only evidence of wrong doing is a polygraph. They think I’m on drugs even though I pass all of my drug tests, Just because of a polygraph. Its just laziness on the part of the law enforcement community. Why bother getting proof when you can just hook someone up to a machine, more time for doughnuts. The thing that continues to astonish me is these people tell me I have no empathy and then disregard how their actions affect others. They destroy families, condition people to isolate themselves, and incarcerate people for make believe violations.
“The polygraph is not a test, it’s an intense interrogation and the only part the PG plays is to frighten a person into making a confession” – Doug Williams, former Oklahoma City police polygrapher who now advocates against the polygraph.
Most registered citizens upon entering parole are required to take periodic polygraphs. The test begins long before one is hooked up to the PG machine. First you must fill out a huge questionnaire, up to 60 pages, answering hundreds of questions about past sexual behavior and current daily activities. Only a newborn babe would be pure enough not to feel uneasy about answering some of these questions, for instance, “have you ever lied to anyone or your parole officer?” This part of the test begins the process of building fear, apprehension, and intimidation.
Then there is the long wait before the PG is administered. During this period the PO reminds you that the severity of the conditions of your supervision depend on the polygraph results. More fear, nervousness, and intimidation. You bring your anxiety before your support group. They grow suspicious because you are anxious. “What are you hiding they ask?” “Is there anything you want to tell me,” your spouse or significant other, noting your anxiety, asks you.
Of course there is support too. Some guy says he knows how to beat the PG, but tightening your sphincter muscles when a certain question is asked seems like something that would work for him but not you. The best advice comes from people who tell you things like, ‘relax’, breath, don’t look worried (i.e. guilty), and think of pleasant things while answering the questions. Don’t volunteer any information before the test is administered.
Then the test is administered and you are sat down on a hard wooden chair which cuts into your circulation and makes you want to fidget. You are told not to do that and your anxiety grows because some of your movements are involuntary. Your breathing changes and the test administrator wants to know why you have changed your breathing. More anxiety. The questions are asked. “Have you ever lied to your PO?” You think, if I say no it will register bullshit. Should I say yes? In your confusion you blurt out, “no!” and lose all hope. Little did you know that no was the right answer no matter what. You can always claim you answered no because you couldn’t think of a circumstance where you lied but if you answered yes then you must have had a circumstance in mind.
The test is not over. You passed most everything but two questions came out vague and the PO and the counselors in your state imposed treatment want to know why. Your answers come out as guarded and now you think you are not trusted.
I’ll stop the story here but it’s easy to see that the PG is a tool designed to breakdown the registered citizen in order to make them more vulnerable to making some confession. And indeed, some people say things to polygraphers which are used against them and often the information itself is not that serious and sometimes the confession itself is false having been induced by overwhelming anxiety.
For a funny but poignant expose see Penn and Tellers hilarious takeoff on the polygraph.