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."

Posted on February 23, 2009 at 12:28 PM • 67 Comments

Comments

debt is paid, debtor is in defaultFebruary 23, 2009 12:59 PM

I'd like to think that a person convicted of a crime should make restitution to his victims, and to society, and then reintegrate.

If we decide that because of the nature of the crime or the criminal that can't be done, then I sort of understand locking somebody up for life, or for some crimes, maybe even taking their life.

But the idea of branding them with a Scarlet A then letting them loose seems incoherent. If they shouldn't be out, keep them in. If its okay for them to be out, let them start over.

AnonymousFebruary 23, 2009 1:12 PM

@debt is paid, debtor is in default

I agree completely. If these people are so dangerous that they have to be tracked by the police for the rest of their lives, then I don't want them roaming the streets. Either keep them locked up, or decide that they are not a threat.

RHFebruary 23, 2009 1:16 PM

@debtor:
The hard part is that often restitution is not possible. How do you restitute a rape or a murder? You can't, short of breaking your own moral codes.

The issue is one of trust... how does one trust a known criminal (especially with one of the crimes we deem 'heinous')? if we never trust them, we lock them up forever... and it leads to prison states. If we trust them too much, they take advantage of our trust.

To properly define a set of consistent rules, we would need to deem a "value" on a human life. Our society is VERY much against doing so (and perhaps societies which do assign a value die off), so we can only make irrational maneuvers and hope they work. Sometimes they do, sometimes they don't, but we certainly can't say they do because we though things through.

I personally like the sex offender notifications. Its a great chance for me to exercise rational thought. I google-map their house, find the distance between their house and mine. I estimate the population in that circle, and end up with some great phrase like "0.01% of people near me are sex offenders" =)

RHFebruary 23, 2009 1:16 PM

And just as a post-scriptum: I do not have any children, so I have no idea how my mindset will change (or not change) when I have a lil-RH running around

nickFebruary 23, 2009 1:41 PM

"Fighting" the specter of pedophilia is the new McCarthyism. We have learned nothing from history. We might as well go back to burning witches.

Fraud GuyFebruary 23, 2009 1:50 PM

I know someone who is subject to a similar law. Their contention, based on review, research, and anecdotes from counselors and those charged with monitoring, is that part of the reason for the decline is not due to the deterrence to commit the crime, but the deterrence to report the crime. This is especially true because, as the study cited today notes, about half of the perpetrators are family members, and very few are strangers to the victims or their family. And as the notification laws become more draconian, reportage may drop.

In addition, because it becomes less likely to be reported, the victim (possibly pressured through their family), is less likely to seek help for their trauma, because required disclosure laws for physical and mental health professionals may deter them.

Public outcry to the contrary (and electoral response also), this is not a bright line issue.

I have to look up the source, but an offender who successfully goes through and maintains counseling has a lower chance of recidivism than one who is not counseled, and in some cases the recidivism rate can be lower than in the general public. This obviously depends on the nature of the offense/offender and competent counseling.

CraigFebruary 23, 2009 1:51 PM

One huge problem with Megan's Law databases is that the information in them is often confusing and misleading to the public. A year or so back, I looked at an online map of registered sex offenders in my city. One rather disturbing fact was that some of their offenses were described in ambiguous terms, such as "oral copulation with a minor or by force." So does this mean that the guy had a possibly-consensual encounter with someone who may have been as old as 17, or that he forcibly assaulted someone? It makes a big difference if the question is how dangerous this person is to children in his neighborhood, but the average citizen examining this information will probably tend to panic and misinterpret it as "this guy raped a small child." As long as the databases are full of such confusing statements, the value of having this information available to the public is highly questionable.

Notav IgilanteFebruary 23, 2009 1:57 PM

This got me to look up my state's offender database. It looks like they've added convenient inclusion of Google maps. So there's a couple in my neighborhood and several very close to the primary school. What do the authorities expect me to do with that information?

kangarooFebruary 23, 2009 2:10 PM

This is an example of the problem of partial disclosure. Judgments are publically disclosed but not easily available -- only a possibly misleading abstract is disclosed, which then destroy its own value, since it is impossible to ascertain what crime was actually committed.

It's of no value to me if it doesn't distinguish between a teacher who slept with a sixteen year old student (a crime for good reason, but not a public danger) and someone who fondled a four year old (a clear public danger). Even looking at the data can only create panic without full disclosure.

The other AlanFebruary 23, 2009 2:14 PM

Oh! Please! Think of the children! If it saves even ONE child from harm, it has to be worth it! (Sorry, it had to be said. Carry on!)

bobFebruary 23, 2009 2:23 PM

I dont see the benefit to these things at all. If you have kids you should supervise them. If you are supervising them they cant get raped, other than by you or at least with your consent.

Additionally I hear a lot of anecdotes of people who commit crimes which I would not consider sexual in nature (a child enters their basement without permission and finds archived Playboy magazines in a box) yet they are then branded as sex offenders.

And I also agree with the "if they are not safe don't let them loose; if they have served their penance then they are redeemed" philosphy.

I feel sorry for someone trying to get their life back together after a jail sentence because they are going to have a hard time finding a job; they dont need vigilantes beating them up or vandalizing their houses (not to mention being shot to death by an irate parent when the child falsely accused them of molestation).

JimFiveFebruary 23, 2009 2:33 PM

@bob: " If you have kids you should supervise them. If you are supervising them they cant get raped"

There are so many things wrong with this statement. First, as indicated in the article, most sex-offenders are known to the victim. You have to trust someone to babysit sometimes.

Second, you have to give your children a certain amount of autonomy so they can learn to be responsible. At some age that means letting them go to the park without you hovering over their shoulder.

Third, sometimes bad things happen.
--
JimFive

betadogFebruary 23, 2009 2:37 PM

"If you have kids you should supervise them."

Right, because kids love parents who hover over them every minute until they are eighteen.

Secondly, even if parents should invasively monitor kids 24x7, that doesn't mean other entities cannot participate in the supervision.

AnonymousFebruary 23, 2009 2:43 PM

@kangaroo
> it is impossible to ascertain what crime was actually committed.

I know a guy. I think he's a great guy. But many many years ago when he was a stupid teenager he got drunk at a party and exposed himself. A 15 year old girl was there. He was convicted of something like "lewd or lascivious conduct in front of a minor", and he is now and probably will be forever listed as a sex offender on the internet.

SpiderFebruary 23, 2009 2:45 PM

Yeah, not surprisingly, you won't get a good understanding of the problem on this site. A percentage of sex offenders suffer from an addiction to the behavior. So in stead of locking everyone up or letting everyone completely free we compromise and let them free but keep tabs on them. Its not perfect, some still find ways to commit crimes, some were never guilty of the crimes they were convicted of, but the law is a reasonable compromise. The lack of data showing its effectiveness or ineffectiveness is more of a measuring of how well we can measure things then anything else.

Fred X. QuimbyFebruary 23, 2009 3:21 PM

Bruce: "...is ineffective in reducing sex crimes or deterring victims." You might want to fix that... or the previously unknown Union of Pederasts is tired of getting a bad rap.

In other news, the police need to hire more midgets to run pedophile sting operations.

AppSecFebruary 23, 2009 3:27 PM

Is there a list of drunk drivers? Shouldn't they be tracked MORE thoroughly?

What about corporate entities that have had privacy issues and cost people numerous time and effort in rebuilding their reputations?

What about theives that have cost their victims a sense of security?

Please. The whole thing with criminal justice is you do your time, you have some long standing punishment (voting rights revoked, long standing record which prevents access to certain jobs), and you are supposed to be able to move on.

ShaneFebruary 23, 2009 3:31 PM

"Even so, the researchers noted an 'accelerated' decline in sex offenses in the years after the law's passage."

Is it possible, since the law was passed circa 1994, that the incredible boom in internet pornography (of all shapes and sizes), and growing consumer accessibility to said pornography, could have had anything to do with this?

Call me crazy, but I wonder... if these whackjobs, or at least some of them, might actually lament having such desires, and given the opportunity to fulfill them (or at least fantasize about them or whatnot) without harming anyone, they chose to do so rather than commit the crimes?

Although, I would venture that the internet has probably (along with sensationalist sting/entrapment operations like MSNBC's predator crap) helped to nurture and mature desires like this in more and more people that may not have acted upon such thoughts without the constant ethereal fantasy being played out so easily on their home computers at the touch of a button. Something to think about anyhow. I've long thought that the 'Catch a Predator' thing did more harm than good, considering how unlikely it seems that pre-teen boys and girls would sit online and actually not only discuss sexual activity and fantasies with older men, but agree to meet them when their parents are away. They also, by their own admission, talk to these 'predators' over spans of days, weeks, and even months, before finally getting them to commit the crime of 'showing up with intent' or whatever. To say nothing of the fact that in something over 80% of cases (where the crime actually occurred) the perpetrator was someone the victim already knew, ie - not a stranger, or a crazed internet predator.

Smells a lot like the FBI coaxing that mentally ill homeless guy into 'masterminding a plot to blow up JFK' or whatever it was. The public's hysteria seems to have a negative (or null) effect on the object of its hysteria, despite best efforts.

But I digress.

RoyFebruary 23, 2009 3:52 PM

The idea of registering sex offenders wasn't well thought out in the beginning.

The best way to defend your children against perverts is to keep them away from yourself and the rest of the family, friends of the family, neighbors, and teachers.

What's worse with Megan's Laws is the mission creep by creeping inclusion: now a 14-year old girl who sends pictures of herself naked to friends is, along with her friends, guilty of possessing child pornography, a felony, requiring them all to resister as sex offenders for life.

I once got mooned by a carload of high school girls. Had I reported this to the police, those kids could have been arrested for indecent exposure, and end up subject to Megan's Law. Now that's just wrong.

debt is paidFebruary 23, 2009 3:52 PM

@Spider
> the law is a reasonable compromise.

America was founded on many compromises. But on Justice, there were no compromises. Until the gov't can prove guilt, the accused is innocent. Period. New laws are not retroactively (ex post facto) applied. Period. And punishment is proportional to the crime, until the hard limit where the punishment becomes cruelty.

A permanent Scarlet A for every offender, because some of them might do it again in the future, is a really big philosophical change.

It's disproportionate punishment, because it's one-size-fits-all.

It's retroactive.

It's unusual - we don't have registries for convicted thieves and murderers who, after all, are possible kleptomaniacs or possible pathological serial killers.

It's cruel - all offenders will forever be treated as perverted scum, marginalized, feared, unemployable, ostracized.

Fraud GuyFebruary 23, 2009 4:34 PM

debt is paid,

In addition, at least in my home state, and I believe in others, the penalties and restrictions ensue from the time of arraignment or arrest, and only drop if you are acquitted or charges are dismissed (or, if by some miracle your governor pardons you for the crime).

So if you live in another state, and travel to Illinois, having been arrested (but not convicted) of an equivalent crime, you can then be arrested for failing to register if you stay in the state for more than 7 days. And the 7 days are not consecutive, but ever. You at least have the 7 days here, though; some require registration within 24 hours of arrival.

mozFebruary 23, 2009 4:37 PM

The good thing about branding random children as child sex offenders is that it contaminates the data and renders the whole concept even more obviously stupid or at least broadens the group who see it as stupid. So I fully support attempts to convict carloads of teenage girls who flash and any other young idiot.

It also helps people realise that stripping basic humans rights as part of the punishment is not reasonable. Didn't you mob once have a war about voting rights and taxes? If that's reasonable, why is it reasonable to expect someone who loses theirs to keep paying taxes rather than take up arms against the oppressor?

Not MeFebruary 23, 2009 5:05 PM

Whether or not the law has a detering effect is irrelevant. The law should be judged on the trade-off being made, which includes cost, restriction of the rights and freedom of citizens, harm done if someone is falsely accused and convicted, and the benefit of protecting children.

meFebruary 23, 2009 5:26 PM

@Not Me

The purpose of the law is to prevent crime. If it doesn't do that, it doesn't protect children.

havvokFebruary 23, 2009 5:40 PM

@moz: no, that lot didn't. Their ancestors did, and are spinning in their graves at what has become of the country and freedoms they laid down their lives for.

mt-iFebruary 23, 2009 5:55 PM

@me
"The purpose of the law is to prevent crime."

The purpose of introducing new legislation is to bring in votes for those who push it. Preventing crime is, at best, an afterthought, and not even that in such cases, considering the relative weights of the soccer mom vote and the bad bad cryptocommunist ACLU-carded liberal scum.

anon0February 23, 2009 6:08 PM

I am subject to a similar law in a different country. The crime involved a young minor (preteen). I rightfully served time and subsequently received counseling. I understand the recidivism statistics quite well, and I think most people here understand they are quite different from what the general public assumes. (More or less the complete opposite, in fact.)

Risk assessments (at least those as part of the legal process) with respect to these types of crimes are a bit of a sham. Every risk assessment shows me to be low risk, but this is automatically overridden to a high risk because of the nature of the crime, which is rather contrary to the outcome of recidivism studies.

I fully agree with the previous comment that if I truly am a danger to society, I should remain locked up. If not, then I'd really like to live my life. The reality is that the reporting (and random "check-ins") requirements of the registry preclude my ability to have a social life. I'm terrified to invite friends over, because if an officer drops by to verify my place of residence while friends and/or colleagues are visiting, it would quite effectively ruin the life I've built.

The sad irony is that anti-social behavior is a predictor of reoffence, but the requirements of the registry force me into this position.

CybergibbonsFebruary 24, 2009 3:31 AM

I never understand what you are supposed to do with the information the database could give you.

Frequently when walking around, I see signs at ground level saying "Caution - Men Working Overhead". There are no barriers or anything in the way. How am I supposed to act on this information? Hone my reactions to dodge falling objects? Get an umbrella out?

Either make the work going on above you safe enough to walk under, or place barriers.

shadowfirebirdFebruary 24, 2009 4:00 AM

Any statistics on the number of ex-offenders that were harassed by their neighbours?

Clive RobinsonFebruary 24, 2009 5:15 AM

@ Cybergibbons,

"I never understand what you are supposed to do with the information the database could give you...

...Either make the work going on above you safe enough to walk under, or place barriers."

That's the whole point behind the signs and the database.

The risk of anything happening is so low that it does not justify expending resources on prevention.

However in a large enough population these things will happen regardless of the low level of risk.

Unfortunatly when they do happen then certain self interested parties get on the case (press / amubulance chasers etc).

So those against whom the finger is likley to be pointed or receive the attention of the legal bretherin etc need a mitigation to point to to show that the person hurt "did not take sufficient care after being warned"...

Oh and the reason for not putting up the barriers, you are at considerably more risk crossing the road than you are at walking under whatever is going on. So if they put up barriers forcing you to cross...

theOtherGuyFebruary 24, 2009 7:54 AM

In response to those saying "their debt was paid"...

It seems to me that what society has decided is that sex offender crimes cannot be fully repaid. If someone is raped or assaulted, they can never get that taken away, so the offender never fully pays off their debt. Being tracked for the rest of their lives is just part of their inadequate attempt to pay for what they did.

In cases of rape and assault, I think I agree with that. For less serious things like exposing one's self, or consensual encounters (especially when people are both under age, or close to it!), I don't think it's fair.

AnonymousFebruary 24, 2009 8:16 AM

Just based on Bruce's excerpt, I think the study is pretty conclusive: it's pretty obvious that the state really wants to show the law is effective, when you look at the conclusion where they speculate about how it's probably really really important. But even such a biased group can't marshall any actual real evidence that it does anything effective.

larsFebruary 24, 2009 8:37 AM

1) Corollary to this discussion, New Jersey also has a program by which certain predators are involuntarily committed following the completion of their criminal sentences.

This might account for the dropping recidivism.

It also tends to leave a good number or those registered offenders in a pool of people already determined to be less dangerous.

*****************

2) Perhaps the question is so implicit that it needs no statement, but: "Is there some way these resources could be used more effectively to protect children from sexual assault?"

SickenedFebruary 24, 2009 8:39 AM

@Spider (and anyone else who beleives this statement)

"but the law is a reasonable compromise."

No law which necessarily precludes successful reintegration, does not contemplate false positives, and is based not at all on empirical evidence should ever be considered a "reasonable compromise."

Sexual offenses are despicable. The laws that misrepresent the innocent and are intended to instill fear in the population (see Notav Igilante's comment) are equally despicable!


FPFebruary 24, 2009 8:46 AM

I think there should be a public database of tax offenders. If there are individuals in my neighborhood that don't pay their taxes, then taxes are raised for everyone else, including me. Someone who evaded taxes in the past might repeat their offense. Therefore, the presence of prior tax offenders in my neighborhood directly impacts my quality of life.

The database should include the amount owed and the amount settled for -- the difference came out of my pocket!

Oh, and those individuals will have to file their tax returns publicly for life so that we can audit them.

CarlFebruary 24, 2009 9:12 AM

I imagine that everyone who reads this blog is well aware of the problem with this security model. In essence, Megan's law encourages parents to utilize a black list approach to their children's security. These kinds of black lists are ineffective and no different from the "no-fly list" that Bruce has spent so much time criticizing lately. Like with the no-fly list, the Megan's law databases are lists of people too dangerous to be allowed privacy, but not dangerous enough to be locked up.

HJohnFebruary 24, 2009 9:41 AM

Like many things, there are good and bad to this.

Most parents would be upset, understandably, if their new neighbor had done time for a crime against a child and they had no way to know about it. Even if the perpetrator had served his time and was a free man, that doesn't mean he should be trusted (just like someone who committed armed robbery and served their time, they are free because they were jailed long enough, but that doesn't mean we trust them with a guy).

However, like with other blacklists, it unintentially creates a another very dangerous group of people--dangerous people you have no reason not to trust. As with all predators, their is a first offense, so the list only blacklists those who got caught, not those who are yet to be, or too smart to be, caught. So, just because there are no known predators in the neighborhood doesn't mean they are safe.

It's a complex problem, also because of errors and poor reporting. When someone appears on a list, you don't know whether they were a 30 year old that assaulted a grade-schooler or an 18 year old that fooled around with a 16 year old. Those are two very different types of people.

Basically, to protect children, a blacklist may be a benefit, which is debatable, but alone is not sufficient.

I'm not advocating a specific position, just presenting considerations.

HJohnFebruary 24, 2009 9:42 AM

@my above post: "but that doesn't mean we trust them with a guy."
____

Meant to say "gun." not guy. *shrug*

Peter PearsonFebruary 24, 2009 9:48 AM

Wrong summary. The research does *not* show that these laws are ineffective; in fact, the recidivism rate was reduced by a quarter: 10 percent to 7.6 percent, a result that would be hailed as wonderful if reproducibly achieved in cancer mortality or CO2 emissions. The negative result being reported is this: the sample size was too small to show that this reduction is statistically significant. In other words, "not proven true", not "proven false".

MarkFebruary 24, 2009 10:36 AM

@ HJohn
While it is easy to live without owning a gun, it is not so easy to live while everybody around you consider you dangerous. So, preventing someone who committed armed robbery from owning a gun and preventing someone convicted for sexual crime from having privacy is not comparable.

SuzanneFebruary 24, 2009 10:55 AM

The rules were changed and no one was told. Elvis (or the “King” as he is so commonly referred to by his fans) began a serious relationship with a 14 year old when he was 24. Linda Blair was 15 when she moved in with 25 year old Rick Springfield. Melanie Griffith was 14 when she began dating 22 year old Don Johnson. Sixteen year old Cher had a relationship with 25 year old Warren Beatty. Did any of these individuals do prison time? NO! And none of them are on the Registry.
Think about it!!!
Consensual sex should not be against the law. There is a huge difference between this and molestation and we have lumped them all together. I pray that someday we can straighten all of this HUGE mess out!

Blinky the HitmanFebruary 24, 2009 11:05 AM

I have three grandchildren and another on the way. I want to know when these people live anywhere near our neighborhood. I want to know what they look like. And I check regularly.

Most parents and grandparents won't bother, because they're too busy using the internet to watch YooperTube videos of idiots whacking themselves in the crotch.

And forget what the bunnyhuggers would like you to believe---these people DO NOT CHANGE. Ever. They just get more careful.
And THERE'S your "reduction".

JasonFebruary 24, 2009 11:12 AM

@me
"The purpose of the law is to prevent crime."

The purpose of the law is to define what actions are crimes and outline suitable punishments.

The law does not prevent crime. The law gives you a heads up that something you are going to do is illegal and that, if you get caught, there are certain consequences.

It may *deter* crime by those who are concerned with being caught, but it will never prevent crime. Those who are "too smart" will always look for the easy way regardless of its legality.

JasonFebruary 24, 2009 11:15 AM

@Blinky the Hitman

I want to know where everyone in my neighborhood who has served time for armed robbery, burglary, or rape is so I can protect my home and my family.

You know those bastards never change. It's a sickness, a sickness with no cure but to cut it off from the rest of society.

Can I get a database with Google Earth tie-ins please?

HJohnFebruary 24, 2009 11:23 AM

@Mark: "While it is easy to live without owning a gun, it is not so easy to live while everybody around you consider you dangerous. So, preventing someone who committed armed robbery from owning a gun and preventing someone convicted for sexual crime from having privacy is not comparable."
______

I think that is a fair point. My main point was how, even when our debt is paid, our past actions have lingering consequences. But you are right, gun ownership and being marked on the web are not comparable.

AppSecFebruary 24, 2009 12:14 PM

I have to ask this --

What do you all want to do with this information? So you know if someone lives in your neighborhood and what they look like? Are you going to go after them? Are you going to leave a restuarant if they walk in? Are you going to take your kid out of the park if they go there? Are you going to leave your 14 year old unsupervised?

I'm really curious.. Because in all reality, I don't think there's anything I'd do other than do what I would do anyway -- teach my child how to be aware of dangers and what to do should dangers appear. I don't want them to be focused on one individual and not notice the individual behind them.

Salmon RushdeeFebruary 24, 2009 1:33 PM

@hitman
> idiots whacking themselves in the crotch.
In your expert opinion, how would you recommend people whack themselves?

St. LuciferFebruary 24, 2009 1:36 PM

@Jason:

I dunno whether you were just joking, but I think the emotional foundations of "mob justice" have a lot to do with the mindset behind Megan's Law. I think there are a lot of well-meaning, protective parents and siblings who would lynch a registered offender at the first suspicious moment, while they might content themselves with due process in another case.

This has been a really great conversation thread -- I second the thoughts of "How else could these resources be used?" and "What good does it do to arm the public with this information?" and "Does a history of 'low-grade' sexual offenses really indicate a risk to a neighborhood?" If we can't answer those questions adequately (and I think we haven't), it really deserves a more careful look.

An entirely different AlanFebruary 24, 2009 2:25 PM

Megan's law is a Wrong and Bad solution if the purpose is to protect the public. I submit that the law never had that purpose at all.

The selling point of Megan's Law is that it creates an additional lifelong punishment for offenders of egregious crimes. A serial pedophile, a pimp, or violent rapist is not going to get a ground-swell of public support for protection of his rights, particularly when such offenders have been shown to re-offend.

If the goal was to actually protect the public, dangerous offenders with a high risk of recidivism would be put into mental health care after they had completed their sentences, and treated until mental health professionals could demonstrate a significant reduction in the risk to the public. This would actually protect the public, but that isn't the point.

The point of Megan's Law is to create fear and to dehumanize sex offenders. Just read the comments above about "those people," and that "those people never get better." While this may be effectively true for the most deranged of pedophiles and serial rapists, notice that people with this emotional response have little interest in differentiating this very small group of offenders from those who have been labeled "sex offenders."

The goal here is to create a big scary underclass of people termed "sex offenders" that are all conflated with the very worst and most deranged of people, regardless of the truth or justice of the claim. Conflating a child abducting serial rapist who is beyond rehabilitation with hundreds of otherwise ordinary criminals who commit ordinary but unsavory crimes along with stupid young people that don't ID the girl at the party and underage girls that camwhore on the Internet all serves the overall agenda because it inflates the statistics.

The agenda that Megan's Law serves is to create a huge inflated number of dehumanized lifetime "sex offenders" which can be used to strike fear into people to manipulate them into supporting socially conservative legislation in the name of sexual decency (anti-gay, anti-porn, anti- sex education). Since there is no way for the public to know if the sex offender in their neighborhood was convicted of having sex with their high school sweetheart or jumping out of a van and cutting up little boys, the number of "sex offenders" can be a chilling statistic.

Furthermore, since offenders stay on this list for life, people who advocate a religious agenda on the basis of "moral decency" can disingenuously point to the alarming growth of sex offenders in the USA, which is guaranteed as long as we continue to arrest people faster than they die of old age. Thus the conveniently growing statistic can be used to oppose any cause or group that can even incidentally be accused of being morally indecent or threatening the "moral fiber" of America.

Make no mistake, Megan's Law isn't about fairness, justice, redress, or public safety. Megan's Law is nothing but a cynically devised tool to forward a religious political agenda.

HJohnFebruary 24, 2009 2:37 PM

@An entirely different Alan

I think you make an unfair indictment. I seriously, seriously doubt that proponents of such laws gathered together and said "hey, lets dehumanize, torment, and punish in an unjust way just for fun." It would be equally unfair to accuse you of not caring about children because of your position, which would be false and unfair--just as your accusations are unfair.

Accusations like that stifle meaningful dialogue. Many on both sides, and many in between, have very valid arguments and very good intentions behind those arguments.

JasonFebruary 24, 2009 3:10 PM

@An entirely different Alan and @HJohn

Nobody got together and said "let's dehumanize, torment, and punish in an unjust way just for fun."

What they said was, "what sort of cash cow movement can I get behind that has enough emotionally explosive force to virtually guarantee that no sane politician would dare to oppose it?"

Sex crime offenders are not considered objects of torture but they are dehumanized. So are most constituents. You and I are dehumanized to most political representation. They have to think of us as numbers and "votes" to do their job and be able to sleep at night.

It's easy to demonize sex offenders. It's easy and it gets votes and money. It has nothing to do with the actual people being tracked and exploited. It's just another slide in a PowerPoint presentation about how much of a good job senator X is doing in protecting our children.

I tend to agree that sex offenders who are habitual should be undergo therapy and counseling or remain incarcerated.

Saying "they never change" is easy when our society has nothing in place to help them change.

Fraud GuyFebruary 24, 2009 4:57 PM

@an entirely different Alan,

I concur.

An example. An 11 year old, who had been abused, abuses in turn an 8 year old. They then plead guilty in juvenile court to this act, and receive counseling.

In my state, that 11 year old is marked for life, never to loiter within 500 feet of a public park, required to register with the local police when they move, cannot live within 500 feet of a school, day care center, or nursing home, and must request permission of the school should they want to visit their children at the school.

Is this justice? Is this meaningful punishment for someone who likely did not know what they did when they did it?

And, as has been pointed out elsewhere, such a person, having received and continuing to receive counseling, has a lower recidivism rate than the likelihood of any random other person on the street commiting a similar crime.

An entirely different AlanFebruary 24, 2009 5:26 PM

@ HJohn

"It would be equally unfair to accuse you of not caring about children because of your position, which would be false and unfair."

Most importantly, it would be false. My statement did give a means to protect the public (children included). Megan's Law provides no such protection.

"Accusations like that stifle meaningful dialogue."

I disagree.

In my observation, emotional appeals and loaded phrases like "for the children," "pedophiles," or even the pre-loaded term "sex offenders" stifle meaningful conversation.

Framing all discussion as pro-child or pro-sex-offender prevents any discussion of what the law actually does or does not accomplish.

The fact is, the Law solves no problem that it is presented to solve. It does not serve the interest of justice. It poorly informs the public. It conflates horrific crimes with petty infractions. It provides no means for the public to respond to the information (don't hire a babysitter that is a sex-offender... how many people hire adults as baby-sitters exactly? And a criminal background check for employment would have found reason not to hire someone without all the extraneous drama). Actual treatment might have at least reduced recidivism or better yet, just actually kept dangerous people off the streets, but for some reason this Wrong and Bad solution for the stated problem, at the cost of civil liberties, was adopted.

Despite all this, smart people did go to great lengths to support it and pass it, and they have harvested political capital from this success, so clearly it did have some purpose.

Jason's observation above pretty-much nailed how this proposal was conceived, viewed, and supported. It gets votes. One cannot oppose it without putting themselves in a position where they can attacked as being pro-pedophile/anti-child. It makes a law maker look good without great cost, and it doesn't contribute to filling up prisons. And it creates a never-ending wealth of statistics that cannot help but support the conservative social agenda.

Are you suggesting that the actual functions the law happens to perform well are entirely coincidence? That seems rather naive.

To me, dialog about the social effects of the law and whether or not it actually meets its stated objectives are the only meaningful dialog one could have.

PLLMarch 18, 2009 3:11 PM

PLEASE READ: When I had just turned 16 (the earliest age at which an individual can be tried as an adult in CT) the police came to my house, lied to my father about the nature of the visit then arrested me for 1st degree sexual assual which is essentially forcible rape with a weapon. At the station house I was barraged with questions regarding local drug activity not, mind you, anything about aforementioned sex crime. I spent five months in a youth block of Hartford CT's maximum security Adult Detention Center. Part of that time had to spent in protective custody(solitary confinement) because of the daily beatings I was getting. I was once doused with a concoction of every bodily fluid possible. The stories go on and on. On Fifth, January 1999 I plead no contest to a 4th degree misdemeanor; something like "inappropriate contact with minor." I registered with the state police the next day even though the plea arrangement hashed out between my father, my lawyer and the prosecution was explicitly NOT to include any reg. requirement. This was apparently changed at the last moment during the court proceeding. It is noteworthy that I was not privy to any of this and during the proceeding I was locked in a holding cell, only to be ushered out to state "my" plea. The defense did not want to risk a trial with a possibly groomed victim. On the subject of the victim: She was just over 3 years my junior and, in my understanding of the word, a peer. It was not her, rather her mother who filed the police report drawing on her conjecture that her daughters sheets had a spot of blood on them and that her daughter was not menstruating that day so she must have been having sex. With me. YEAH. Also, when presented with a photo line up, the victim did not identify my picture. How I was even arrested is beyond me. I was forced out of high school by both the administration and the student body. The long and short of it is: 10 years have elapsed and every day this thing rears its ugly head. I'm 26 now living my girlfriend of 3 years(3 years younger for those wondering) and working full time while pursuing a B.S. in civil engineering. Even at school there are flyers with my info on them. I know mine is an isolated and difficult situation but the fact is that I am no danger to anyone. Also, my inclusion in registries renders them less effective because concerned parties must sift through names like mine to find those of the real threats. Thank you for reading and considering this information.

constitutionalfightsApril 3, 2009 2:21 PM

Megan's Law,Jessica's Law, and Adam Walsh Act are prime examples of bad legislation which is implemented for political purposes, rather than for real effectiveness or merit.
See our blog for a torrent of information about the failings of these laws - www.constitutionalfights.org

firefly601June 27, 2009 10:52 PM

Megan's Law is so flawed. People have no idea on the difference between consensual sex and pedophiles. The law needs major revision. So many young men are on Megan's Law. They are not child predators, but the law treats them like they are. Their lives are forever destroyed; often because they loved a teenager who often portrayed herself as some one older or was just duped. But politicians get votes by saying they support Megan's Law and even making it more difficult. They truly don't care how many lives they are destroying in the process. And what about the parents of these girls. They hold no responsibility.

ConcernedAugust 2, 2009 1:25 AM

There are two forces at work here. First you have politicians the draw to cases which will get them votes like sharks to blood. And then you have the parents of victims that are looking to lash out, which is human nature.

The politicians want to draw up hard line stances to get their names on these bills. They don't care about the victims, the re-offense rates, the effectiveness of the punishment or the science behind the problem.

The laws they come up with are one size fits all solutions which groups internet, cell phone crimes with rapes. There are numerous cases which don't even have a victim.

When offenders fight the rules, such as curfews, they ultimately given a pass. The rule for doesn't change for everyone. Its a system which gives people with money and an education a better chance at finding a way to live through the system then those less fortunate.

I believe we all need to love our kids and raise them to make good decisions. At the end of the day we don't know who the enemy is. The guy next door may not be on the registry yet, but does that mean you can trust him? I say I don't trust anyone with my children.

We need to make legislation that punishes and then allows offenders to work on being good citizens. The bad ones need to stay inside until a medical doctor releases them. I for one am strong enough to say that we should not fund the business of government or jails. Jails are meant for the deserving and those which are not ready to be part of the community. It is not a life sentence based on mob rules and emotions or those who take advantage of emotions.

someoneOctober 20, 2009 9:17 PM

Here's the problem with these law. Politicians are adding so many non dangerous people as 'sex offenders', that they are diluting the pool, making Megan's law worthless. For example, in California, they went from 45,000 offenders to 90,000 offenders by trying to add everyone possible to the registry. Even though studies showed less than 9% were dangerous. Then law enforcement was unable to monitor them all. That's how Jayce Dugards abductor was able to slip through the cracks. He became 1 of 90,000 rather than 1 of 9,000 which is what should have been regsitered.

To make this law work, they need to only register dangerous offenders, not every person that ever mooned or flashed someone.

TracieMarch 4, 2010 2:54 PM

As the mother of children and the victim of molestation myself I have to first respectfully disagree with the person who said if you supervise your kids they won't be raped. My uncle, when I babysat his kids, was the one who molested me. It can happen, it does happen, so don't be fooled into false security. Second, and most suprisingly I believe that this law needs SERIOUS overhauling. I agree that it is too vague in who it forces to register, it creates a vigilanty mentality in those people who can't see past the "label" or do not know all the facts. I also believe that the classifications on the site are too broad, as one other poster commented, you don't REALLY know what was done because categories seem randomly lumped together. I know someone on the site who is by no means dangerous, yet he is lumped in with others to the point where anyone only reading the site and not knowing him would not realize that. He has been thrown out of four residences in three years because of it. This is unfair.

Michelle DeSantosJune 6, 2010 12:16 PM

What I find most interesting about Megan's law is that the reason that that young girl was killed was not just because of the sex offender, but it was mainly because the parents went out to dinner and left their 8-year old child home alone defenseless.

What people I've found are using this law to do is to chastise those who are gay or transgendered, at least where I live in PA. They go around to this one woman's house (she's a post-op MTF) and accuse her of being a sex-offender. I know for a fact that she is not and she's just trying to live a peaceful life. But they make her life a living hell.

If you want to keep your child safe from these people, don't let your kids go into a stranger's house without your being present. Also don't go out to dinner and leave your child home ALONE!

I was better off not knowing who was in my area. This law doesn't address the fact that parents can leave their child home alone without going to jail. To those who say that they've suffered enough as parents, they haven't suffered enough because they didn't go to jail for endangering the welfare of their child by leaving her alone.

kris perkJune 8, 2010 12:54 AM

I am on the sex offender registry for having a consensual relationship with my now wife, in 1998.We now have two beautiful children.There is an answer to the question ",why cant the police watch these guys and prevent future horrors."?
The answer is not what people want to hear as this subject is driven by hysteria and knee jerk legislation to appease a roman colliseum, mob type mentality.

There are thousands and thousands of consensual,statutory cases on the sex offender registry in each state,Plus juvenille cases(19 year olds with 15 year olds) ,public nudity,exposure,prostitution,indecent behavior,public peeing etc.

There simply are not enough police to monitor all these cases. Because the states wont interject risk assessment hearings, all sex offender registrants are lumped together and there simply isnt enough police power to monitor all registrants,nor should they.!!!!!!!!
I have been on television numerous times on this subject. I know what i did is socially taboo and illegal, yet i am not a threat to children or women.To put me next to a child rapist on this list, is like putting a casual marijuanna smoker ,caught with a bag, in the same arena s a meth lab gangster!!!!!!!.

List of police time waisted on my case:
:ive been on this list for 11 plus years,ive had 100 plus probation appointments,40 plus home checks,done over 17 police station check ins,police monitoring our home frequently,pulled over (with my wife,both of us in cuffs)11 plus times etc.Stickers on our home on Halloween,lost 6 jobs,various acts of vigilantism etc.

We have had DCFS called on us 3 times by an anonynous neighbor because im on the list and have had numerous threatening calls to our home. Addittionally we have had to call the Crestwood Police and bother them numerous times because of suspicious cars in front of our home, snapping pictures,gawking etc.All this police time for one consensual case ,AND WE ARE MARRIED .!!!!
( We were married by the same judge who gave me the original misdimeanor,who did not consider me a threat!!! He later helped seal our case to "protect this family and the children" )

If the public is wondering why law enforcement cant even stop violent registered offenders from re-offending,the answer is that these predators are like a pin hiding in a haystack.The haystack is thousands of non violent cases like mine, that would be removed immediately if risk assessment was employed.

No media figure has the courage to tell it straight: time to weed out the predators from the registrants who simply broke the law. Then the police can triple their time up on monitoring violent offenders.( Its not the police who make these laws its the congressional and Governor wannabes,who want to appear to look "tough on crime.",yet have no clue of the ramifications of their legilation on families nor care.)

Its always the same pattern, the media likes to cry wolf,get the public excited (for sensationalism)and then the lawmakers legislate an already blotted system ,while the real predators know this and use it in their hunting techniques as camoflague.
my name is Mark Perk, l Google in" Lets seperate the Misguided from the monsters" Eric Zorn ,Chicago tribune. This is our story.

our daughter is 4 years old,ironically I am as scared as anyone of true sexual predators. The story of any young child raped is heart breaking ,frightening yet tragically will happen time and time again. No one has the courage to seperate the wheat from the chaff.or the "misguided from the monsters". Mark and Krissy Perk

second victimJuly 5, 2010 10:21 AM

I have a friend with a son who got accused of rape by a girl just one month younger than 16, who lied about her age to him. He was 18 and he thought he was with a "girlfriend" until the parents confronted her about the party she went to and the guy she was seeing. Her story followed what her parents wanted to hear, and then her father pressed charges because in my opinion, he couldnt stand the thought of his daughter being out of control and she feared her parents enough to go along with the story that she was a "victim" - not responsible for her involvement with him. He has been on Megans Law ever since and his own family cant even give him a place to live because they lose jobs and get harrassed because their house is identified as a haven for a child molester rapist labeled person. He did not commit the act he is being ostracized for, he was caught in the system by an angry father of a girl who didnt want to get punished by her parents for her behavior. His family suffers more than this fellow does, and they are prevented from helping him even maintain a life properly becaues of what other community members do to them, and he is forced to maintain a life around people that are causing him to slide deeper and deeper into a life that promotes more of what society doesnt need. He often ends up on welfare and state aid because of his inability to find work because of his label. He is sliding deeper and deeper into depression and can only maintain friends who feel comfortable around his situation. Many times they are people who are the same and it forms a huge "clump" of human oppression. This happened 16 years ago. He cannot survive this and is not a danger to any one as any kind of "rapist". The system now offers funding for the megans law and the state makes a profit off promoting the program. ???

kris perkJuly 16, 2010 9:04 PM

I am on the sex offender registry for having a consensual relationship with my now wife, in 1998.We now have two beautiful children.There is an answer to the question ",why cant the police watch these guys and prevent future horrors."?
The answer is not what people want to hear as this subject is driven by hysteria and knee jerk legislation to appease a roman colliseum, mob type mentality.

There are thousands and thousands of consensual,statutory cases on the sex offender registry in each state,Plus juvenille cases(19 year olds with 15 year olds) ,public nudity,exposure,prostitution,indecent behavior,public peeing etc.

There simply are not enough police to monitor all these cases. Because the states wont interject risk assessment hearings, all sex offender registrants are lumped together and there simply isnt enough police power to monitor all registrants,nor should they.!!!!!!!!
I have been on television numerous times on this subject. I know what i did is socially taboo and illegal, yet i am not a threat to children or women.To put me next to a child rapist on this list, is like putting a casual marijuanna smoker ,caught with a bag, in the same arena s a meth lab gangster!!!!!!!.

List of police time waisted on my case:
:ive been on this list for 11 plus years,ive had 100 plus probation appointments,40 plus home checks,done over 17 police station check ins,police monitoring our home frequently,pulled over (with my wife,both of us in cuffs)11 plus times etc.Stickers on our home on Halloween,lost 6 jobs,various acts of vigilantism etc.

We have had DCFS called on us 3 times by an anonynous neighbor because im on the list and have had numerous threatening calls to our home. Addittionally we have had to call the Crestwood Police and bother them numerous times because of suspicious cars in front of our home, snapping pictures,gawking etc.All this police time for one consensual case ,AND WE ARE MARRIED .!!!!
( We were married by the same judge who gave me the original misdimeanor,who did not consider me a threat!!! He later helped seal our case to "protect this family and the children" )

If the public is wondering why law enforcement cant even stop violent registered offenders from re-offending,the answer is that these predators are like a pin hiding in a haystack.The haystack is thousands of non violent cases like mine, that would be removed immediately if risk assessment was employed.

No media figure has the courage to tell it straight: time to weed out the predators from the registrants who simply broke the law. Then the police can triple their time up on monitoring violent offenders.( Its not the police who make these laws its the congressional and Governor wannabes,who want to appear to look "tough on crime.",yet have no clue of the ramifications of their legilation on families nor care.)

Its always the same pattern, the media likes to cry wolf,get the public excited (for sensationalism)and then the lawmakers legislate an already blotted system ,while the real predators know this and use it in their hunting techniques as camoflague.
my name is Mark Perk, l Google in" Lets seperate the Misguided from the monsters" Eric Zorn ,Chicago tribune. This is our story.

our daughter is 4 years old,ironically I am as scared as anyone of true sexual predators. The story of any young child raped is heart breaking ,frightening yet tragically will happen time and time again. No one has the courage to seperate the wheat from the chaff.or the "misguided from the monsters". Mark and Krissy Perk

BobFebruary 6, 2011 11:46 AM

I am looking for a Lawyer who has the guts to take on Megans Law. Pro Bono.
Let me explain, I am all for Megans Law as it originally stood for, for sick ,perverted deviants.But our law makers have not had the courage to say enough is enough and we have stretched the law so much that the original law has been waterd down. A person streaking, peeing behind a bar etc can go on megans law, this is totally ridiculous. We have spoken to Mrs. Kanka and she is very upset as to how her original law has been turned into a free for all, she said it was meant only for the sick, perverted, mentally unbalnaced people. She siad it was not meant for streakers, consensual sex (no matter of age especially if the parents to not press any charges ) I have a son who got caught up in this mess, the parents did not do anything as they knew there daughter had done it before . Yet the state felt they had to file charges. There also seems to me a conflict of interest we have just discovered between the Lawyer we had and the police. Plus illeagal issue with the police dept.
If an attorney see this and wants to help get a young man out of this what I call life in prison but not in prison. please leave a contact number or site.There is a lot more to this that I will show to a lawyer.

JoseDecember 8, 2011 2:09 PM

Many of the state internet child solicitation laws are unconstitutional and need to be re-written. They were created as part of the "moral panic" and reactionary legislation. There is little danger to kids from internet predators. UNH-CCRC has done some excellent research to debunk this misconception.

Leave a comment

Allowed HTML: <a href="URL"> • <em> <cite> <i> • <strong> <b> • <sub> <sup> • <ul> <ol> <li> • <blockquote> <pre>

Photo of Bruce Schneier by Per Ervland.

Schneier on Security is a personal website. Opinions expressed are not necessarily those of Co3 Systems, Inc..