In a pioneering move to bolster the country’s criminal justice system, the U.K. government recently announced a three-year pilot scheme of mandatory polygraph testing for individuals convicted of domestic abuse. This decision follows the success of using polygraph examinations as a critical tool for monitoring sex offenders who are released from prison early on licence.
The initiative aims to apply this procedure to offenders who pose a high risk of recidivism, particularly those who are likely to repeat their offences against the same victims that led to their original incarceration. The proposed regular polygraph tests would be instrumental in tracking these offenders’ behaviours and safeguarding potential victims in the future.
Building on the legal framework provided by the Domestic Abuse Bill 2020, prison authorities now have the power to enforce mandatory polygraph tests for offenders released on licence. The bill targets those identified as posing a serious risk of reoffending. Eligible individuals for the pilot must be over 18 years of age, have received a minimum sentence of 12 months, and been released on licence. The crimes must include murder, specified violent offences, breaches of a restraining order involving domestic abuse, or controlling or coercive behaviour within a family or intimate relationship.
The initial three-year pilot scheme will be implemented across four Probation Service regions, offering adequate time to assess a significant number of released offenders, ensuring a robust evaluation of the programme’s results. The Cambridge Centre for Evidence-Based Policing will conduct an independent evaluation of the scheme, with findings expected to be published and laid before parliament. If successful, the programme will be expanded across England and Wales.
The government is actively recruiting qualified Probation Officers with experience managing domestic abuse offenders for formal polygraph training. A notable supporter of the programme is Detective Inspector Jude Holmes of Greater Manchester Police, who said,
“As head of the Sex Offender Management Unit for Greater Manchester Police, I endorse the use of polygraph testing as a mandatory licence condition by the National Probation Service (NPS) on high-risk sex offenders under multi-agency public protection arrangements…”
Since 2014, polygraph tests have been a crucial part of the U.K.’s approach to monitoring sex offenders released on licence. This method helps the authorities verify compliance with licence conditions such as entering exclusion zones, developing new relationships, or meeting prohibited individuals.
The procedure has also been useful in checking dynamic risk factors related to offending, such as the use of illegal substances or alcohol consumption. Originating in America as a method to improve the supervision of sex offenders, the Post Conviction Sex Offender Testing (PCSOT) process has been successfully used in the UK over the past decade, following its own successful pilot.
Under the new scheme, domestic abuse offenders released on licence will be subjected to a similar process. The first test will be conducted around three months post-release, and, if no concerns are identified, the process will be repeated every six months until the end of the licence.
While failing a polygraph test alone cannot result in offenders being returned to prison, they can be recalled if disclosures made in the pre-test interview indicate breaches of other licence conditions. These individuals might also be reassessed, and if their risk level is deemed to have escalated, they could be returned to prison.
This innovative use of the polygraph promises to provide evidence through disclosure, identify deceptive offenders, and, ultimately, increase protection for domestic abuse survivors. It underscores the UK’s commitment to leveraging technology and data in ensuring the safety and welfare of its citizens.