CrimProf Blog

Editor: Kevin Cole
Univ. of San Diego School of Law

Monday, May 7, 2007

New Jersey Discovers that Megan's Law May Not Make Children Safer

From New Jersey's pioneering Megan's Law, which costs millions of dollars to alert citizens when sex offenders move nearby, may not make children safer, new research suggests.

A federally funded study under way in Trenton is trying to determine whether Megan's Law is worth the cost of its "enormously expensive" monitoring and enforcement requirements, said Phillip Witt, a consultant on the study.

A declining trend of sex attacks on children began before the law took effect and has continued, raising the suggestion that New Jersey's Megan's Law - one of the first laws of its kind in the nation - may not have influenced the trend, researchers say.

"We don't know whether Megan's Law really works," said Witt, who helped create the risk-assessment system used by New Jersey's courts to classify sex offenders.

"Just a few studies have looked at whether community notification laws are effective," he said. "I believe they have very little effect."

The 1994 law is named after Megan Kanka, a suburban Trenton girl who was raped and murdered by a convicted sex offender living across the street. It has been a model for dozens of state laws across the country.

The law requires sex criminals to report their whereabouts to law enforcement authorities, who must maintain a catalog of the offenders and notify residents when a high-risk offender moves nearby. The tracking and notification apparatus in New Jersey costs county and local governments millions of dollars. Rest of Article. . . [Mark Godsey]

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