• Editor's Note
 • President's Message
 • Ted and the Brown Pelican
 • NYSATSA mourns the loss of its first President
 • Public Understandings of Sexual Abuse and Sexual Abusers
 • Evidence-Based Practice with Juveniles
 • Book Review:
The Myth of Sexual Addiction
 • Book Review:
Polygraph, Sex Offenders, and the Court
 • 2012 Executive Board Election
 • 31st Annual Research and Treatment Conference
 • New ATSA Members
 • Professional Issues Committee Update
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Vol. XXIV, No. 3
Summer 2012
Book Review:
Polygraph, Sex Offenders, and the Court


Polygraph, Sex Offenders, and the Court
By Kenneth E. Blackstone

Emerson Books
ISBN: 0615506801
194 pages
USD $45.00

The polygraph remains a controversial subject in sex offender treatment.  Many writings discuss the advantages and disadvantages of its use in our work; a patient reader could spend hours on ATSA’s listserv reading threads and comments that alternately prescribe and condemning its use in our field.  The use of the polygraph varies from one jurisdiction to the next; and the sensitive nature of sexually violent predator laws has helped bring the polygraph into the limelight.

Kenneth E. Blackstone

In the wake of the Arizona decision (Jacobsen v. Superior Court and State of Arizona), and recent articles (Prescott 2012, Cook 2011), it is important that we, as treatment providers, researchers and policy advisors, view the polygraph through an informed and fresh lens.  Ken Blackstone’s latest work provides professionals that opportunity.  

Ken Blackstone has conducted polygraph examinations since 1979.  During this time, he has been involved in more than 23,000 polygraph examinations as an examiner, consultant, and expert witness and has independently conducted more than 15,000 examinations. He has also authored several papers and amicus briefs on related subjects (his web site is  www.blackstonepolygraph.com).

In Polygraph, Sex Offenders and the Court, Blackstone explores topics such as the historical and current state of sexual offender civil commitment. He follows this with the workings of the modern polygraph, the different types of polygraph exams, and the best conditions for each.  Blackstone takes time to discuss relevant case law and court rulings regarding the use of the polygraph.  For those involved in mandated polygraph examinations, these discussions and decisions are essential and they should be well known to us as professionals.

Blackstone consistently challenges the status quo, arguing for increased quality assurance in the field and narrowing the scope of the polygraph.  He goes to great lengths to detail the proper use and wording of relevant questions and contrasts this with the downfalls of improper use, wording and interpretations. For example, he recommends re-wording an improperly written question, “did you mean to shoot that man?” as “did you shoot that man on January 24th, 2004?” Likewise, he replaces “did you penetrate that 8 year old girl for sexual gratification?” with “did you penetrate your granddaughter’s vagina on June 3rd?”

Blackstone challenges polygraph examiners and treatment providers to better differentiate forensic tests and utility tests.  A utility test is a screening test and “in the psychophysiological detection of deception, as in any other field, the diagnostic test is always more reliable than the screening test” (p. 41).  His goal is consistency and increased validity of individual examinations as well as enhanced professional and ethical standards. 

Blackstone argues that routine practices of “fishing expeditions” and poor wording of relevant questions decrease the reliability of the polygraph and increase the likelihood of false positives, resulting in a misuse and misallocation of financial and supervision resources, wrongful probation violations, and undue stress on clients. 

The debate over the position of the polygraph in sex offender treatment and management will likely continue for years. Polygraph, Sex Offenders, and the Court conversely offers a foundation of knowledge and understanding for those of us in the trenches that may, or may not, have a say in whether polygraphs are utilized in our jurisdictions and practices.


Arizona Supreme Court (Jacobsen v. Superior Court and State of Arizona, Supreme Ct. No. CV-10-0309-PR

Blackstone, K. (2011). Polygraph, sex offenders, and the court: What professionals should know about polygraph...and a lot more. Concord, MA: Emerson Books.

Cook, R.D. (2011, Autumn).  The Sexual History Polygraph Examination: Is it time for change? ATSA Forum, 23, 4.

Prescott, D.S. (2012, Spring). What Do Young People Learn from Coercion? Polygraph Examinations with Youth Who have Sexually Abused. ATSA Forum, 24.


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