Is Megan's Law Worth It?
A study from New Jersey shows that Megan’s Law—laws designed to identity sex offenders to the communities they live in—is ineffective in reducing sex crimes or deterring recidivists.
The study, funded by the National Institute of Justice, examined the cases of 550 sex offenders who were broken into two groups—those released from prison before the passage of Megan’s Law and those released afterward.
The researchers found no statistically significant difference between the groups in whether the offenders committed new sex crimes.
Among those released before the passage of Megan’s Law, 10 percent were re-arrested on sex-crime charges. Among the other group, 7.6 percent were re-arrested for such crimes.
Similarly, the researchers found no significant difference in the number of victims of the two groups. Together, the offenders had 796 victims, ages 1 to 87. Most of the offenders had prior relationships with their new victims, and nearly half were family members. In just 16 percent of the cases, the offender was a stranger.
One complicating factor for the researchers is that sex crimes had started to decline even before the adoption of Megan’s Law, making it difficult to pinpoint cause and effect. In addition, sex offenses vary from county to county, rising and falling from year to year.
Even so, the researchers noted an “accelerated” decline in sex offenses in the years after the law’s passage.
“Although the initial decline cannot be attributed to Megan’s Law, the continued decline may, in fact, be related in some way to registration and notification activities,” the authors wrote. Elsewhere in the report, they noted that notification and increased surveillance of offenders “may have a general deterrent effect.”
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