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BC Bans Use of Phallometric Assessment in Young Offenders

Posted Aug 09 2010 3:08pm

Following a high profile sex offender case involving a contractor providing assessment services to offenders, British Columbia's Children and Family Development Ministry has banned the use of penile plethysmography (a.k.a. phallometric assessment) in young offenders.  First developed by Kurt Freund in the 1950s, penile plethysmography involves the measurement of deviant sexual interest in males through the use of mercury-filled strain gauges to assess changes in penile bloodflow patterns.  Despite controversy over its ongoing use, penile plethysmography remains one of the best predictors of sexual recidivism in convicted sex offenders. 

In making her decision, Children's Minister Mary Polak referred to the recent charging of the unnamed contractor (the charge is unrelated to the contractor's work with offenders) as well as complaints from government officials that penile measurement was too invasive when used with young offenders.  The penile assessment process often involved offenders as young as 13 being exposed to nude and semi-nude pictures of children and also listening to audiotape descriptions of forced sex during the assessment procedure.  While penile plethysmography is commonly used for accused and convicted sex offenders across Canada, its role in the assessment of young offenders is less well-documented.

Debate over the continuing use of penile plethysmography has gone on for years although the benefits of the procedure were felt to exceed the drawbacks until recently. Human rights groups have also spoken out against its use in young offenders.  BC's Children's Representative Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond announced that she was only recently made aware of the use of phallometric testing on young people and has called for an independent review of the practice in youth jails.

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