Ethical Practice in Sex Offender Assessment: Consideration of Actuarial and Polygraph Methods
Sexual abuse : a journal of research and treatment 2011 Sep; 23(3): 381-96
The current generation of community protection laws represents a shift in priorities that may see the individual rights of sex offenders compromised for the goal of public safety. At the center of many judicial decisions under these laws are the risk assessment reports provided by mental health practitioners. The widespread enactment of laws allowing for additional sanctions for sex offenders, and a burgeoning research literature regarding the methods used to assess risk have served to heighten rather than resolve the ethical concerns associated with professional practice in this area. This article examines ethical issues inherent in the use of two assessment methods commonly used with sex offenders in the correctional context, focusing on actuarial measures and polygraph tests. Properly conducted and adequately reported actuarial findings are considered to provide useful information of sufficient accuracy to inform rather than mislead judicial decision makers, although careful consideration must be given to the limitations of current measures in each individual case. Despite its increasing use, polygraph testing is considered controversial, with little consensus regarding its accuracy or appropriate applications. On the basis of the current state of the professional literature regarding the polygraph, its use with sex offenders raises unresolved ethical concerns.
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