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Revisiting Megan's Law and Sex Offender Registration: Prevention or Problem

NCJ Number
Robert E. Freeman-Longo
Date Published
20 pages
This document discusses the consequences of the sex offender registration law.
The Jacob Wetterling Crimes Against Children and Sexually Violent Offender Registration Act was enacted in 1994. It required all States to establish stringent registration programs for sex offenders, including the identification and registration of lifelong sexual predators. Megan’s Law, the first amendment to the Act, was passed in 1996, mandating all States to develop notification protocols that allow public access to information about sex offenders in the community. During the 1990's, many legislative actions regarding sex offenders appeared to result from emotional public response to violent crime rather than from research showing that these laws would make any difference in correcting the problem and reducing crime. Public notification of sex offender release has led to worse conditions rather than the betterment or safety of society. Since the passage of this legislation there have been many instances of violence toward sexual abusers and innocent persons. Innocent families have been harassed, victims of sexual abuse have been identified, and private residences of law-abiding citizens are being posted as the residences of sex offenders. Some States have applied these laws retroactively, resulting in persons charged with indecent exposure for urinating publicly being labeled as sex offenders. Other states have applied registration and notification laws to youth, labeling children as sex offenders for life. The problems with Megan’s Law and sex offender registration are the origins of public notification; the lack of supporting data determining the efficacy of public notification; the cost; subsequent violence; extension to other crimes; and the violation of confidentiality and constitutional rights. Numerous cases of released sex offenders being thrown out of housing or losing their jobs as a result of registration and notification laws have been documented. The best way to stop sexual abuse is to prevent it before it begins. Public notification is an easy solution to the highly emotional issue of sexual offending. The impact goes well beyond the offender and the victim. Highly publicized cases have demonstrated a severe and negative impact on the victim’s family and the offender’s family. 5 endnotes, 37 references