Is Sex Offender Registration Actually Keeping New Jersey’s Kids Safer?

New Jersey’sMegan’s Law” may not provide adequate protection against sex offenders.

    February 16, 2012 /24-7PressRelease/ — The federal Jacob Wetterling Crimes Against Children and Sexually Violent Offender Registration Act and the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act were once embraced by law enforcement and the public alike. Requiring convicted sex offenders to submit to monitoring by registering their names, addresses and workplaces with the state made people feel safer.
The push to make registration mandatory at the federal level and in all 50 states (plus the District of Columbia) was prompted by several high-profile cases. The1989 disappearance of Minnesotan Jacob Wetterling, the 1994 kidnapping, sexual assault and murder of New Jersey’s Megan Kanka and the 1981 murder of six-year-old Florida boy Adam Walsh all contributed to the enthusiasm for registration. The intent behind all of these laws is to make the presence of sex offenders known in order to protect children from becoming victims.
These laws require an individual convicted of certain types of sex offenses against children, those who were adjudicated delinquent (i.e. charged as juveniles) or found not guilty by reason of insanity, to provide his or her name, address and place of employment to local law enforcement agencies. This must be done within a short time after being released from prison or moving to the area. Those sex offenders who were found to be compulsive and likely to re-offend must verify their registration information with local, state and federal authorities every 90 days; all other registrants must confirm their information on an annual basis for the length of their time of required registration. Most states — New Jersey included — require notification of neighbors when a level-three (maximum risk) convicted sex offender moves in.
Do the Laws Work?
Numerous studies over the years have researched the topic of whether or not sex offender registries actually serve to protect vulnerable populations. A 2010 study by the Medical University of South Carolina showed that the prospect of registration did not deter many convicted offenders from re-offending. A study by researchers at the University of Michigan and Columbia University found that while registration laws appear to prevent someone from committing a first-time sex offense, making registration information public can backfire and actually raise the rate of reoffending. Another study conducted by a University of Chicago Ph.D. student shows that registration requirements have little effect on the rate of sex crimes committed in each state. Both the Michigan-Columbia study and the University of Chicago study were reported in the Journal of Law and Economics in 2011.
These studies echo the conclusions of a 2009 study conducted by the Department of Policy and Planning of the New Jersey Department of Corrections. It found that: “Megan’s Law has no effect on reducing the number of victims involved in sexual offenses” and “showed no demonstrable effect in reducing sexual reoffenses.”
Why Haven’t the Laws Been Changed?
In spite of study results, however, no state has acted to repeal its sex offender registration requirements entirely, due in part to public enthusiasm for these laws. Some have speculated that preserving registration requirements allows parents to feel that they are taking active steps toward protecting their children.
It is difficult for people to acknowledge that many sexual predators are unknown to law enforcement. However, recent sex abuse scandals within the Catholic Church, Penn State and Syracuse University underscore the point that some of the most prolific sexual abusers are not actually found on any registry.
Regardless of public opinion about the efficacy of sex offender registration lists, these laws seem to be here to stay. Those convicted of sex crimes face harsh treatment in the courtroom, while they are incarcerated and in the court of public opinion. That is why sex offense charges must be fought so aggressively; if you or a loved one is under investigation for or has been charged with a New Jersey sex crime, seek the advice of a skilled criminal defense attorney in your area to learn about protecting your legal rights and fighting for your freedom.
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