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Megan's Law: Evaluations of Sexual Offender Registries

NCJ Number
Criminal Justice Policy Review Volume: 16 Issue: 2 Dated: June 2005 Pages: 123-140
Sarah Welchans
Date Published
June 2005
18 pages

This article reviews the literature on empirical evaluations of sex offender registration and community notification policy, which are legal mandates under what is commonly known as Megan's Law.


Two Federal laws were enacted in the mid-1990s to counter sexual abuse recidivism. The 1994 Jacob Wetterling Act required States to create registries of sexually violent offenders, including those who targeted children. These registries were required to track offenders' residence annually for a minimum of 10 years after their release from prison. In 1995, in response to the heavily publicized abuse and murder of Megan Kanka by her neighbor (a twice-convicted sex offender), the Wetterling Act was enhanced by requiring States/law enforcement agencies to release the registration information about sex offenders in the registries, so as to protect the public from additional harm. The literature search revealed 12 empirical evaluations on various aspects of Megan's Law. These evaluations focused on stakeholder, client-centered, goal-oriented, and process evaluations. Two studies that examined the impact of Megan's Law in reducing recidivism rates among sex offenders subject to registration and notification found no support for the law's overall effectiveness in reducing recidivism; however, those offenders subject to community notification were rearrested quicker than those in the control group, suggesting that reoffending is detected quicker under the implementation of Megan's Law. There is still much to learn from goal-oriented evaluations as well as other evaluations of Megan's Law. In offering suggestions for future research, this review notes that evaluations have failed to determine the effect of this policy on sex offenders' families. Also, most of the evaluations focused on the law's implementation and effectiveness in reducing child sexual abuse. Evaluations should also determine how sexual assault on adults is impacted by this law. 30 references