Comparison Question Technique Method And Sex Offenders

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Polygraph tests were invented by William M. Marston in 1971. They have been conducted for many years and widely used by enforcement agencies when interrogating an offender. The lie detector machine measures their blood pressure, heart rate and respiration while the law asks questions related to their offence. One method of polygraph is Comparison Question Technique, or CQT, which compares responses to relevant questions with responses to control questions (Elaad, 2003). Control questions are used to deal with relations to the crime but not the crime itself. This is to test the criminal, evoking them to lie. Relevant questions address the crime and can be very specific. It’s been said that guilty people should show more psychological responses to relevant questions rather than control questions. The Comparison Question Technique is very popular amongst law enforcement, forensics and national security screening due to its accuracy, although its caused controversy. These underlying problems are mainly theoretical. There’s no evidence that certain psychological responses are related to deception; innocent people could just be naturally nervous when asked questions. This can show that polygraph tests are not always accurate or reliable. The lack of standardisation means that much depends on the skills of the individual polygraph examiner who formulates the questions. This essay will look at the advantages and disadvantages of polygraph testing and the CQT when catching criminals who have committed sexual offences.

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Gannon, Wood, Pina, Vasquez and Fraser (2012) carried out a pilot study to see whether mandatory polygraph testing should be rolled out across England and Wales. They wanted to find out if testing would make offenders more honest when asked certain questions, while supervised by their managers. They found there was increase in clinically significant disclosures which can change how they’re treated in prison. This study has been criticised as the results were based more on the belief that the test would show that the offender was lying rather than when. This throws doubt on the reliability of polygraph testing. A critical review by Meijer, Verschuere, Merckelbach, & Crombez (2008) shows that recidivism is a serious problem among sex offenders and must be reduced. This has shown a major increase in using polygraph tests to assess convicted sex offenders. This is due to it being compared to the urine test analysis that is used on drug addicts (English, Jones, Patrick, & Pasini-Hill, 2003). Both of these methods have shown to be accurate when validating an offender’s truthfulness. Over the years, probation officers have been trained to carry out polygraph testing on sex offenders. This is to make sure that sex offenders are caught in time before more serious offences are caused, such as rape. Sex offenders are less likely to confess their crime compared to paedophiles and they may even argue their case in court to try and get a lenient sentence. Unfortunately, this can lead them to re-offend. Polygraph testing can be known to produce prediction errors, such as false positives and false negatives. False positives are when innocent people are deemed guilty and they have a higher rate of community supervision. False negatives are the opposite with guilty people regarded as innocent and getting lower supervision, making it easier for them to re-offend.

To understand a sex offender’s behaviour, past or current, they are asked to complete a sexual history disclosure test. This requires offenders to complete a form listing their offences and victims. This list is then discussed by their supervisors and therapists. Levenson (2009) argued that social workers are unable to assess risk without essential past history. Without this information, it is not known whether the offenders are just a risk to adults, or children as well. Cook (2011) carried out a between-subjects test by taking a sample of 166 sexual offenders, who were convicted between January 1999 and August 2005. These participants were male and had been convicted and supervised locally. They were split into two groups: 93 received the sexual history test and 73 did not. Findings showed that those who had undergone the sexual history polygraph examination were less likely to re-offend. Children are known to be victims of sexual abuse. This is said to be linked to offenders’ cognitive distortions. They may minimize harm caused by the abuse, perceive children as desiring sexual contact with adults, or perceive their sexual contact as socially acceptable (Gannon & Polaschek, 2006; Ward, Hudson, Johnston, & Marshall, 1997). A way to reduce cognitive distortions is to ask straightforward questions. Examiners are unable to determine whether the offence took place, so they have to formulate their questions more vaguely. Offenders may be questioned about sexual contact but it could be normal interaction; the examiner doesn’t know. Due to cognitive distortions, the offender may not respond, leading to a false negative outcome.

There are many factors that can affect the accuracy of CQT. One is repeated testing of the same offender. Andreassi (2000) states that physiological responses decrease when constantly triggered and can cause an incentive in the offender. Repeated testing may force offenders to start using countermeasures to alter test outcomes. This can be both physical or psychological techniques, such as “fooling” the machine or unable to use the results in court. Unfortunately for examiners this is easily undetectable and can be troublesome. Re-testing the same offender multiple times can not only The post-conviction sex offender polygraph test has been said to have an effect on reducing recidivism. However, there is no proof that this is true. Grubin, Madsen, Parsons, Sosnowski, & Warberg (2004) thought that the polygraph test would influence offenders’ behaviour therefore expecting to see a reduction in high risk behaviour. Their study showed that using PCSOT can reveal new information this doesn’t stop offenders from participating in high risk behaviour. There has been some debate among critics about how ecologically valid CQT is. It’s been argued that there’s no way to know how strong responses may show signs of a criminal’s guilt and it could be that the suspect is innocent. This is due to fear of being detected. Laboratory studies have been known to lack ecological validity due to a non-real-life setting. Participant’s wellbeing is not affected by failing the Comparison Question Technique.

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