New Stats Undercut Rationale for 'Meagan's Laws'

New crime statistics undercut support for the rash of Meagan's Laws enacted by states in recent years. The laws force sex offenders to register with the state and then provides their names and addresses to the public.

A recent Justice Department report suggests that state sex-offender laws may need revisiting. The study finds former sex offenders are much less likely to be rearrested than other former criminals after their release from prison.

The Justice report raises the question of whether these laws were overreactions to a few high-profile events, rather than reasoned legislation. At the least, the laws isolate and stigmatize those who have served time for a sex crime - a sort of excess punishment that may unfairly assume all sex offenders will tend toward the same behavior for life.

What's more, the term "sex offender" doesn't include some important distinctions. Many were peeping Toms, whom the law often throws in the same lot with serial rapists and pedophiles.

A large body of evidence shows that most sex offenders are typically people their victims knew. Yet most Megan's laws are directed to warn strangers of the whereabouts of former offenders, usually through a statewide registry and community notification. Such lists can make rehabilitation and reentry into society much more difficult for men (or women) who have paid their penalty.

We agree with the editorial that facts rather than emotion should control the issue. Treatment works for many low-level offenders, which in turn has lowered recidivism.

Considering that most offenders' victims are known to them, i.e, not strangers, community notification seems unnecessary in a great many cases--and counterproductive. Registration causes great difficulty for ex-offenders both in finding housing and jobs--key ingredients to staying out of trouble and re-integrating with society in a positive manner.

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