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Sex offense parolees subject to lie-detector testing Purpose is to stop sex crimes before they happen, officials say

They call it "Operation Truth or Consequences."

State officials have added a new requirement for the nearly 2,000 convicted sex offenders who are under supervised parole: The parolees are now required to submit to a polygraph test.

The goal is to catch paroled sex offenders who may be thinking about committing a sex crime or breaking their parole rules before they have a chance to do it.

Champions of victims' rights and laws protecting children from sexual predators hail the new initiative as an excellent tool to prevent repeat offenses by convicted sex offenders.

"I am in full support of parole doing polygraphs," said Amherst Council Member Shelly Schratz, who has lobbied for laws regulating where sex offenders can live in relation to schools and day care centers. "It's very hard to lie on a polygraph test."

But civil rights activists and defense lawyers question whether such a program is necessary or even effective, given all the strict regulations governing paroled sex offenders that are already in place.

"Is this a Tom Cruise movie?" asked John A. Curr III, who heads the Western New York office of the New York Civil Liberties Union. Curr was referring to the 2002 thriller "The Minority Report," in which police officers use a telepathic medium to predict crimes before they occur.

"I don't know if this is a wise use of resources," Curr said.

Last year, the state Division of Parole began training three of its officers in polygraph testing and using them to perform lie-detector tests on the state's registered sex offenders, said parole spokesman Scott E. Steinhardt.

This September, the operation was expanded, and 10 more parole officers -- two for each of the Parole Division's five regions -- began undergoing intensive training in an American Polygraph Association-approved course.

The division has set aside $1 million to fund training, equipment and staffing for the program. There was no legislation involved in implementing Operation Truth or Consequences.

The new requirement would affect the 55 registered sex offenders in Erie County who are being supervised by the Parole Division, officials said. Statewide, there are 1,967 under parole supervision.

The newly trained polygraph examiners have begun to administer the tests in their assigned regions. The officers hook up the parolees to a laptop polygraph machine and then ask a series of questions during an extensive interview that can last up to three hours.

They ask questions about the parolees' sexual histories and get more information about their past offenses and activities while on parole.

Answering deceptively or suspiciously won't result in the parolee getting a violation, but it would prompt the parolee's supervisors to modify surveillance and conditions to make sure the convict doesn't do anything against his or her parole rules or harm another person.

While the polygraph examiners are all parole officers, they are not the officers who directly supervise parolees.

Earlier this fall, a Watkins Glen man who had been on parole after serving four years on a first-degree sodomy conviction was sent to jail following a polygraph exam, Steinhardt said.

Andrew McDaniels, 34, allegedly answered some questions about "minor males" that raised some red flags, Steinhardt explained. The examiner talked to McDaniels' supervising parole officer about the test results, and officials then decided to increase undercover surveillance of the parolee.

McDaniels was allegedly seen near children, a violation of his parole conditions, Steinhardt said. He was immediately arrested for the violation, jailed and now faces going back to prison.

"This is not a panacea; it's not a magic bullet," said Parole Executive Director Anthony G. Ellis II in a statement announcing the program. "However, the Division of Parole believes it could substantially enhance the effective supervision and containment of sex offenders . . . If sex offenders are freed from prison and subject to monitoring and supervision, then it has to be as effective as possible."

New York is far from the first state to implement such a requirement. Alaska, Colorado, Delaware, Illinois, Kansas and Wisconsin have made polygraph testing a routine component of parole for convicted sex offenders.

Civil rights advocates acknowledge that parolees give up many of their civil liberties because they are being allowed out of prison. They have essentially no Fourth Amendment privacy rights, for instance, which means authorities can search them and their property without a warrant.

"They're in a special category," Curr said.

But Curr and others wondered whether polygraph testing will prove useful.

"Is this just one of those things that politicians do to make themselves look tough on the boogeyman?" he asked. "I don't see how polygraphs are going to be the answer to his problem."

John L. Keavey, a Buffalo attorney who handles many parole violation cases, said he is not surprised that parole has added the new condition.

"In some ways it makes sense: There's a huge amount of pressure on parole considering sexual offenders," he said.

But he questioned whether the polygraph testing is overkill.

"It's hard to see how they'd get more surveillance," he said, pointing out that paroled sex offenders in New York face tight regulations -- ranging from periodic drug testing to strict curfews -- and can be searched without a warrant.

Interpreting the results of polygraph exams can be tricky and subjective, Keavey added, and could lead to inconsistent enforcement.

Keavey said he has not yet had any clients who have been found in violation of parole since taking a polygraph.

"But I think we're going to hear a lot more about this in the future," he said.

e-mail: mbecker@buffnews.com

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