Adjunctive Use of Surveillance and Monitoring Strategies

Surveillance Officers

The utilization of specialized surveillance officers can augment and support sex offender supervision efforts considerably. Specifically, through intensive field work, surveillance officers can provide routine monitoring of sex offenders’ activities and adherence to case plans and specialized conditions, subsequently increasing the amount of time assigned supervision officers can dedicate to other critical case management responsibilities and collaborative activities (Cumming & McGrath, 2005; English et al., 1996, 2003; Pettett & Weirman, 1996; Scott, 1997).

Generally, when monitoring adult sex offenders, surveillance functions are performed by individuals from law enforcement, public safety, or community supervision agencies; for juvenile sex offenders, trackers or public safety officials employed by juvenile courts, juvenile justice agencies, or juvenile supervision agencies may be utilized to augment the supervision activities of juvenile officers. To ensure effective partnering and monitoring, surveillance officers should be trained by specialized supervision officers and other professionals on victimization issues, the etiology and dynamics of sex offending, and effective sex offender management practices. Surveillance officers must also have a clear understanding of the specific offense patterns and dynamic risk factors for each offender for whom they have monitoring responsibility.

Surveillance officers should focus on developing productive working relationships with offenders and their collaterals. This enables surveillance officers to assess more thoroughly sex offenders’ engagement in treatment, compliance with supervision, status and nature of significant relationships, potential high risk factors or behaviors, access to victims, and effective or ineffective use of coping skills (CSOM, 2002a, 2002b; Cumming & McGrath, 2000, 2005; English, 1998; English et al., 1996, 2003; Hudson et al., 2002; Marques et al., 2000; Pettett & Weirman, 1996; Scott, 1997). Hence, where utilized, surveillance officers can play a critical role on sex offender case management teams. Through immersion in the field of sex offender management and the day–to–day activities of specific offenders, surveillance officers become well positioned to identify concerns or problems and can subsequently alert supervision officers and other team members to the need for intervention. Beyond identifying risks posed by offenders, surveillance officers should also be expected and willing to recognize and provide important information that reflects offenders’ progress and successes (Cumming & McGrath, 2000, 2005).

Electronic Monitoring

The use of surveillance technologies, including electronic monitoring and global positioning systems has recently become increasingly popular to enhance the risk management efforts of supervision officers with sex offenders (see, e.g., DeMichele, Payne, & Button, 2007; English et al., 2003; ICAOS, 2007; Lyons, 2006; Schlank & Bidelman, 2001). More than half of states in the U.S. have created policies or passed legislation that stipulates that electronic monitoring can be used to manage these offenders (DeMichele et al., 2007; ICAOS, 2007).

Currently, however, there is a lack of research that demonstrates the impact of electronic monitoring when used with sex offenders. To date, there have only been limited efforts to examine the efficacy of electronic monitoring with general criminal offenders, with the existing studies indicating that it does not affect recidivism (see, e.g., Aos et al., 2006; Bonta, Wallace–Capretta, & Rooney, 2000; Renzema & Mayo–Wilson, 2005).

More research is needed to examine the impact of electronic monitoring with sex offenders. In the meantime, if it is implemented, jurisdictions would be well served to utilize the technology as a part of a larger, multidisciplinary, and comprehensive approach to managing sex offenders in the community that focuses both on monitoring their behavior and supporting their successful participation in treatment. Because of the research that indicates that outcomes are enhanced and recidivism is reduced when higher risk offenders with significant needs receive more intensive services and interventions (see, e.g., Andrews & Bonta, 2007), electronic monitoring is, perhaps, most appropriately used with sex offenders who are assessed to be more dangerous and likely to commit additional crimes in the future.


Supervision officers and treatment providers often use the polygraph as one component of an overall sex offender management strategy, primarily to assess compliance with supervision and treatment (Blasingame, 1998; CSOM, 2000; Cumming & McGrath, 2000; English, 1998; English et al., 1996, 2003; McGrath, Cumming, & Burchard, 2003; Madsen, Parsons, & Grubin, 2004; O’Connell, 2000; Scott, 1997). The polygraph can be particularly useful as a means of gathering information about sex offenders’ compliance with supervision conditions and treatment expectations (Blasingame, 1998; English et al., 1996, 2003; Madsen et al., 2004; O’Connell, 2000). (See the Assessment section of this protocol for more information on the polygraph.)

For the purpose of enhancing existing community supervision practices, two common types of polygraph examinations may be used: the single/specific issue examination and the monitoring/maintenance examination. The single issue polygraph examination may be required by the supervision officer when concerns about specific high risk behaviors arise during the course of supervision. For more general and periodic assessments of compliance with supervision conditions and treatment expectations, the monitoring or maintenance polygraph examination may be conducted. Included among the focus of inquiries are risk factors such as victim access, substance abuse, use of pornography, or masturbation to deviant sexual fantasies.

It should be noted, however, that the polygraph remains somewhat controversial. Therefore, stakeholders should be fully aware of the limitations, caveats, and potential risks and benefits of its use before making decisions about implementing such technology, and should not make supervision–related decisions exclusively based on polygraph examinations (ATSA, 2005; Blasingame, 1998; CSOM, 2000, 2002a).

Because of the potential impact of age, functioning, development, maturity, and co–occurring behavioral health concerns on the reliability and validity of polygraphy, questions remain about the use of the polygraph with juvenile sex offenders (CSOM, 1999; Fanniff & Becker, 2006; Hunter & Lexier, 1998; Lane, 1997; NAPN, 1993; Worling, 1998). Despite these questions, its use to enhance supervision and treatment practices with juvenile sex offenders is increasing nationwide (McGrath et al., 2003). Consequently, it has been suggested that, if used, polygraph examinations should be restricted to older juveniles (i.e., 14 years of age or older) who are more developmentally stable, and with the informed consent of the juvenile, parent/caregiver, and referral source. Therefore, clear policies and procedures are necessary to ensure the cautious and responsible use of such technology.

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