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Abstract: Polygraph Testing in Forensic Settings

Polygraph testing is used by police forces and security services in many countries; private practitioners are also active throughout the world. In these settings it has a range of applications, including criminal investigation, employment screening, security vetting, credibility assessment and fidelity testing. Since the late 1990s it has also been used increasingly in post conviction settings, such as the treatment and supervision of sex offenders, and more recently, in the respect of substance misuse and domestic violence. Proponents stress its utility, in particular its contribution to treatment where it is reported to assist in overcoming denial and helps identify treatment targets as well as compliance; critics question its validity, reliability and ethics. The debate is hampered, however, by selective use of research findings, confusion between different polygraph applications, and a lack of knowledge of how polygraphy works. This presentation will describe the basics of polygraph testing and discuss the controversies associated with it; because post-conviction testing is of particular interest to forensic clinicians, findings from the large scale trials of post conviction sex offender testing carried out in England will be described in detail, with data presented in relation to its impact on treatment and supervision.


Don Grubin is Professor of Forensic Psychiatry, Newcastle University and (Hon) Consultant Forensic Psychiatrist, Northumberland, Tyne & Wear NHS Trust. He is originally from the United States, but came to England to study at the age of 20 and have been there since. He trained at the Institute of Psychiatry, and the Maudsley and Broadmoor Hospitals. He is the Project Director of the Sexual Behaviour Unit in Newcastle, and psychiatric advisor to the English National Offender Management Service sex offender programmes. He is also a member of the Ministry of Justice Correctional Services Accreditation Panel, and sits on the Boards of the Home Office Independent Safeguarding Authority. His research interests include health screening in custody and in prisons, fitness to plead, polygraphy, and all aspects of sexual offending. Since the early 2000’s he has been leading the evaluated implementation of polygraph testing of sex offenders on probation and parole.