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IL - Truth is, faith in polygraphs led to false imprisonment

Original Article

09/23/2010

Wednesday morning last week, [name withheld], 33, (right) was home with his mother in suburban Woodridge when he saw his parole officer coming up the walk.

The officer — they're technically called "mandatory supervised release agents" since Illinois has all but done away with parole — was there to arrest [name withheld] and haul him back to prison.

Why?

"He told me it was because [name withheld]'s lie-detector tests were inconclusive," said [name withheld]. "I asked him, 'What does that mean?' He said, 'He failed.'"

(UPDATE --Friday morning I got a copy of the violation report. The conclusion of the polygraph examiner is summarized: First test -- "...not able to determine truthfulness..." Second test -- "inconclusive")

I was surprised to hear this when [name withheld]'s lawyer, Joshua Tepfer of Northwestern University's Center on Wrongful Convictions of Youth, called to share his frustration and concern.

Not surprised that [name withheld] had allegedly failed two polygraph exams since his release from prison in May. I have no idea if he's an honest man and no position on Tepfer's contention that [name withheld] is innocent of participating in the 1994 rape and murder of a South Side woman for which he was convicted and served time.

But surprised that we're using such dubious technology to put people behind bars.

I mean, really. Polygraphs monitor a person's pulse, respiration, perspiration and blood pressure for signs of deception as he answers a series of questions.

Though they can "discriminate lying from truth telling at rates well above chance," according to a National Academy of Sciences report, they are "intrinsically susceptible to producing erroneous results" and have "extremely serious limitations," and any faith we might have in them is supported by evidence that is "scanty and scientifically weak."

Most criminal courts in America have long refused to admit them into evidence. The Academy of Sciences report, released in 2002 in response to a request from lawmakers to investigate whether lie detectors could be an effective anti-terrorism screening device, concluded that "the innocent (are) indistinguishable from the guilty by polygraph alone."

Still, since 2004, Illinois law has said sex offenders can be compelled to take polygraph tests after they are released.

"We might as well slap a mood ring on them," said Northwestern historian Ken Alder, author of "The Lie Detectors: The History of an American Obsession." "Polygraphs measure emotional response. And nothing's more likely to produce an emotional response in a former sex offender than questions about sex offenses. An individual may or may not pose an ongoing danger to the community, but the polygraph is no place to turn for an answer."

But, ironically, it can produce an answer anyway. When the person hooked up to the machine believes it's reading his mind, the polygraph can "elicit admissions and confessions, deter undesired activity and instill public confidence," as the Academy of Sciences report says.

"It's amazing what sex offenders will disclose to polygraph examiners," said Alyssa Williams-Schafer, coordinator for sex-offender services at the Illinois Department of Corrections. "Sometimes even before the test starts."

For this reason, Williams-Schafer said, a polygraph examiner is usually one of three main participants in a supervised release program for a sex offender — the parole officer and therapist being the other two.

Fine. Whatever hocus-pocus works to keep us safe. But locking a guy up for failing? What questions? What answers?

Tepfer, [name withheld]'s attorney, said he didn't know, couldn't talk to his client at Stateville Correctional Center and was being denied a copy of the violation report. He said [name withheld], who works at a tire store, has been careful to stay out of trouble in hopes that Cook County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez will OK a new round of DNA testing on semen found in the victim — the first round excluded him and his co-defendants, each of whom say their confessions to the rape and murder were false and coerced — that will identify the real killer and clear [name withheld]'s name.

Corrections and Illinois Prisoner Review Board officials I began hounding for information on Tuesday said they also didn't know the details, but it would be unusual, they said, for someone to be reincarcerated because he failed a polygraph test.

Then, right on my deadline Thursday, I received a call from Attorney General Lisa Madigan's office saying [name withheld] was being released immediately and the state was dismissing his violation order.

The needle on my "big screw-up" meter has moved into the red zone. No lie.


Brochure - Residency Restrictions Discounted as Means of Public Safety (By Illinois Voices)

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KS - Olathe parents urge lawmakers to make sex offender changes

Original Article

09/23/2010

By Rachel Whitten

TOPEKA – Concerned parents rallied together Thursday before a legislative interim committee to urge lawmakers to impose requirements on sex offenders that would protect children.

The parents all live in Scarborough, a neighborhood in southwest Olathe where a convicted California child sex offender moved this spring. After serving a 120-day sentence in California for sexual battery of a 13-year-old girl spending the night with his daughter, [name withheld] and his family moved to a house 208 feet from the Scarborough Elementary School.

Scarborough parents alarmed by the situation also discovered that Kansas has no restrictions on a registered sex offender living near a school and does not require sex offenders moving from another state to notify new neighbors of their criminal history.

Many of those parents Thursday urged the Joint Committee on Corrections and Juvenile Justice Oversight to recommend to ask the full legislature for measures such as restricting where sex offenders can live, limiting their participation in school or church functions, and requiring neighborhood notification when a sex offender moves into an area.

But according to committee chair Sen.Pete Brungardt, a Republican from Salina, many of those issues were already put to rest in 2007, when lawmakers decided that restricting were a sex offender can live was unrealistic, because cities don’t have the authority to draw broad zones where sex offenders can and cannot live.

Instead, the committee approved preparing a report for the full legislature in January, when the session reconvenes, that recommends pursuing restricting the ability of convicted offenders to go to places such as parks, bus stops and other places children are likely to be, as well as the idea of electronic monitoring.

Brungardt said the plan is to keep convicted offenders away from situations where they might be tempted to harm a child.
- Not all sex offenders have harmed children!  Some have not even harmed a child or adult!

The committee also reviewed the Interstate Compact for Adult Offender Supervision, a national agreement among all 50 states concerning the transfer of sex offenders from one state to another. In the case of [name withheld], the California man who moved to Olathe after being released from prison, his name was never put into the Compact system by the state of California. Therefore, the state couldn’t give notice to Kansas when he moved. The state of Kansas had no way of knowing that [name withheld] was a sex offender except for the fact that he registered himself after he moved.

Brungardt said the failure of California to enter [name withheld] into the Compact system was a case of “judicial discretion or oversight.”

In the meantime, the parents of the Scarborough suburb say the cul-de-sac where [name withheld] lives was once a place where kids ran freely and toys were scattered about the community area. Now parents are scared to let their children play like they once did.

Ultimately, the group of parents, who call themselves Kansas Rights 4 Kids (Twitter), are afraid that because Kansas does not have the same laws restricting the movements of sex offenders like neighboring states, such as Oklahoma, Nebraska, and Missouri do, Kansas will become a safe haven for sex offenders.

I’m highly concerned that Kansas is surrounded by states with child sex offender residency restrictions, and that the lack of restrictions here in Kansas could lend to a huge influx of child sex offenders from other states,” said Wichita City Councilman Jim Skelton, who provided written testimony for the committee.

But Brungardt pointed out that sex offenders have already served their sentences, and that cases should be judged on an individual basis, with restrictions tailored to particular individuals.