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California making paroled sex offenders take lie-detector tests in latest bid to deter crime

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SACRAMENTO, California — For the first time, California will make paroled sex offenders take periodic lie detector tests as a way to gauge their behavior patterns and perhaps prevent new sex crimes.

The move came in response to several high-profile cases involving parolees who raped and killed.

State officials said this week that the lie detector tests will help them better gauge which offenders are most dangerous and in need of increased supervision.

Parolees could be asked about everything from whether they are attending 12-step addiction programs to whether they are lingering at playgrounds or having inappropriate contact with children, officials said.

All sex offender parolees also are required to participate in specially designed treatment programs. Previously, only high-risk offenders had to undergo treatment. That has bumped the state's spending on treatment programs from $8.5 million last year to $18.3 million this fiscal year.

The state also is using more tests, known as risk assessments, designed to gauge each offender's likelihood of committing a new crime. That will help parole agents devote more resources to those who need it most.

California is not the first state to adopt the new practices, which were fully implemented last month. At least 18 states have used a similar policy, experts said. But with about 6,250 sex offenders on parole, officials said California is by far the largest.

It also has the nation's largest program of tracking sex offender parolees' movements with satellite-linked GPS devices. But that program has had notable failures, including Phillip Garrido, who was convicted of keeping Jaycee Dugard hidden at his Contra Costa County home for 18 years, and John Gardner III, who is serving a life sentence for killing two San Diego teenagers.

Most recently, two Orange County sex offenders who were required to wear GPS tracking devices were arrested last spring in the rapes and killings of four women.

"These tools, none of them by themselves can absolutely prevent crime," said Douglas Eckenrod, a parole administrator who oversaw training of the 241 parole agents who supervise sex offenders. But used together, he said, the tactics can help parole agents prevent crimes while getting offenders the treatment and services they need.

Offenders are required to undergo the lie-detector tests as a condition of their parole. Deceitful answers can't be used in court or by themselves to decide an offender's guilt or innocence in crimes or disciplinary violations, but parole agents can use the results to investigate the possibility of new crimes or parole violations.

Harriet Salarno, founder and chairwoman of Crime Victims United of California, welcomed the department's latest effort because she said GPS tracking was oversold as a way of preventing new crimes. But she predicted sex offenders will find a way to fool the lie detectors.

So far, they seem to be prompting offenders to hurriedly admit any transgressions to get out in front of the lie detector tests, said Brenda Crowding, a parole administrator who sits on the state's Sex Offender Management Board. Together with GPS tracking, the tests give parole agents a wealth of information they never had before.

"It's a tool that perhaps sets the stage for the first time in an offender's life where he's literally practicing being honest," added Eckenrod.

The so-called "containment model" of tests and other requirements was recommended by the Sex Offender Management Board, made up of treatment and law enforcement professionals, and required under a 2010 law named after Chelsea King, one of Gardner's victims.

Research shows the combined steps have the best chance of preventing new crimes, reducing new offenses by 40 percent, said Janet Neeley, a deputy attorney general who commented on behalf of the board.

American Civil Liberties Union senior staff attorney Michael Risher said lie-detector tests can be inaccurate, and it might be better for California to limit the polygraph examinations to those shown by risk assessments to be more dangerous.

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