Megan's Law is an informal name for laws in the United States requiring law enforcement authorities to make information available to the public regarding registered sex offenders. Individual states decide what information will be made available and how it should be disseminated. Commonly included information includes the offender's name, picture, address, incarceration date, and nature of crime. The information is often displayed on free public websites, but can be published in newspapers, distributed in pamphlets, or through various other means.
At the Federal level, Megan's Law is known as the Sexual Offender (Jacob Wetterling) Act of 1994, and requires persons convicted of sex crimes against children to notify local law enforcement of any change of address or employment after release from custody (prison or psychiatric facility). The notification requirement may be imposed for a fixed period of time - usually at least ten years - or permanently.
Some states may legislate registration for all sex crimes, even if no minors were involved. It is a felony in most jurisdictions to fail to register or fail to update information.
Megan's Law provides two major information services to the public: sex offender registration and community notification. The details of what is provided as part of sex offender registration and how community notification is handled vary from state to state, and in some states the required registration information and community notification protocols have changed many times since Megan's Law was passed. The Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act supplements Megan's Law with new registration requirements and a three-tier system for classifying sex offenders according to their risk to the community.
Paul Kramer was the sponsor in 1992 in the New Jersey General Assembly of a package of seven bills known as Megan's Law that were approved one month after the rape and murder of Hamilton Township, Mercer County, New Jersey six-year-old Megan Kanka by Jesse Timmendequas, a sex offender who had been previously convicted of sex crimes and had lived across the street from Kanka together with four other sex offenders. The bills would require sex offender registration, with a database tracked by the state, community notification of registered sex offenders moving into a neighborhood and life in prison without a chance of parole for those convicted of a second sexual assault. Kramer expressed incredulity at the controversy created by the bills, saying that "Megan Kanka would be alive today" if the bills he proposed had been law.
Study of effectiveness
A December 2008 study of the law in New Jersey concluded that it had no effect on community tenure (i.e., time to first re-arrest), showed no demonstrable effect in reducing sexual re-offenses, had no effect on the type of sexual re-offense or first time sexual offense (still largely child molestation/incest), and had no effect on reducing the number of victims of sexual offenses. The authors felt that given the lack of demonstrated effect of the law on sexual offenses, its growing costs may not be justifiable.
Michigan adopted Megan's law soon after its inception in New Jersey and modified it with some notable changes. Each "sex" related offense is placed on the registry with largely vague categories of severity numbered 1 through 4. The specific details of the offense, the circumstances, and various other factors are taken into consideration when charges are brought and listed on the site along with the driver's license picture of the individual. Regardless of offense level, the individual is placed on the registry for a minimum of 10 years, up to life. Certain HYTA cases are not listed on the public version of the registry.
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The effectiveness of Megan's Law, The Jacob Wetterling Act and The Adam Walsh Act are constant fodder for both media and politicians alike. Proponents of the above laws maintain that these laws are necessary for the control and monitoring of dangerous individuals that live amongst the general populace. One senator has suggested that sex offenders in each jurisdiction be ordered to report to their local jail on October 31 (Halloween) of each year to protect children from being abducted during "this night of intentional identity confusion". The logistics of this have proven to be difficult to justify, as there have been no specifically reported cases of abduction related to children visiting an offenders home on that evening.
Reformists have conceded that the registry and the above laws have a place, however with some modifications. The typical recidivism rate statistics provided by the State of Michigan show that an average of 3.5%, (yrs 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008), of registered offenders re-offend. (A reoffense is defined as committing a similar offense, missing a parole or probation meeting, or by failing to re-register as is required 4 times a year.) The other 96.5% on average, for the years stated, are classified as first time offenders with no prior felonies or "sex" related crimes on record.
- McLarin, Kimberly J. "Trenton Races To Pass Bills On Sex Abuse", The New York Times, August 20, 1994. Accessed June 8, 2010.
- Megan's Law: Assessing the Practical and Monetary Efficacy, Zgoba, Witt, Dalessandro and Veysey
- Levenson, Jill S.; Cotter, Leo P. (2005). "The Effect of Megan’s Law on Sex Offender Reintegration". Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice 21 (1): 49–66. doi:10.1177/1043986204271676.
- Zgoba, Kristen; Dalessandro, Melissa; Veysey, Bonita; Witt, Philip (December 2008), Megan’s Law: Assessing the Practical and Monetary Efficacy, http://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/nij/grants/225370.pdf
- Levenson, Jill S.; D'Amora, David A.; Hern, Andrea L. (2007). "Megan's law and its impact on community re-entry for sex offenders". Behavioral Sciences & the Law 25 (4): 587–602. doi:10.1002/bsl.770. PMID 17620324.
- Welchans, Sarah (2005). "Megan’s Law: Evaluations of Sexual Offender Registries". Criminal Justice Policy Review 16 (2): 123–140. doi:10.1177/0887403404265630.
- Recidivism of Sex Offenders Released from Prison in 1994 (USDOJ government study)
- Facts about Megan's Law and Sex Offenders in New York State (Summary of NY Dept. of Corrections study)
- The Angry Offender (Integrates Megan's Law effects with data from USDOJ and NYDOC studies)
- Megan's Law Official Website for California
- Megan's Law ineffective, study says (by Andrew Vachss, Inquirer Trenton Bureau, February 7, 2009)
- Politics and Irrelevance: Community Notification Statutes
- Sex Predators Can't Be Saved (opinion piece by Andrew Vachss, The New York Times, January 5, 1993)
- How Many Dead Children Are Needed to End the Rhetoric? (opinion piece by Andrew Vachss, New York Daily News, August 12, 1994)