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Budget Cuts Mean Fewer Polygraphs for Sex Offenders in Washington

Austin Jenkins

Washington state's budget crisis means lower risk sex offenders in Tacoma's Pierce County will only be polygraphed once a year, not the four times a year higher risk sex offenders are truth–tested. That's according to an internal memo obtained by public radio.


The polygraph test is a management tool used by probation officers to keep tabs on what sex offenders are doing in their private lives. Each test costs about $150. Now, a Department of Corrections official in Pierce County has issued a memo. It says that low risk offenders will be polygraphed just once a year; moderate offenders would get the test twice a year; and high risk sex offenders, four times a year. Dr. Mark Whitehill is a sex offender treatment provider in Pierce County. He says no matter the risk level, he believes all sex offenders should receive quarterly lie detector tests.

Whitehill: "The polygraph has — despite its scientific problems — it has great elicitation potential and knowing that an offender is going to take polygraphs regularly generates motivation to be within compliance."

Whitehill says while there's no firm rule about how often to truth–test sex offenders, the norm is four times a year. To him a once–a–year policy seems arbitrary and insufficient. The Department of Corrections (DOC) responds that the polygraph is just one of several tools for keeping sex offenders from victimizing again. The DOC's Armando Mendoza says even before the memo was written, lower level sex offenders were usually only polygraphed annually.

Mendoza: "I am comfortable with once a year for the lows, especially when in reality, I think that that's what the lows have been getting traditionally."

Mendoza adds that if there's reason to suspect a sex offender isn't being honest, additional polygraph tests can be ordered on a case–by–case basis. He also says the department will act to develop a statewide policy on how often to polygraph sex offenders. I'm Austin Jenkins in Olympia.

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