Study: Megan's Laws May Not Make Children Safer
A new study in New Jersey, home of the original Megan's Law which requires convicted sex offenders to register with authorities, finds no evidence they make children safer and questions whether the laws are worth the enormous cost.
For those who don't know a Megan's law from an Amber Alert or a Laci's or Jessica's law,
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.
As to the study, conducted by the New Jersey Department of Corrections and funded by the National Institute of Justice (the research arm of the Department of Justice),
The $38,252 study by the state Department of Corrections appears to be one of the nation's first attempts to analyze whether Megan's Laws make children safer from sex criminals.
While the study won't be complete in all its phases until next year,
One phase has ended. It charted sex offenses against children in the decade before 1994 and in the decade after. Researchers said they were surprised to find that a steady decline in sex crimes across New Jersey had begun in 1991 - three years before Megan's Law.
....Sex offenses against children have also declined since Megan's Law was enacted, but there has been no way to know whether that's because of the law.
In other words, sex offenses against children were already on the wane (you'd never know it from the cable news shows that feature them endlessly) and
Any number of factors could have led to the declines, [Lisa Jones of the Crimes Against Children Research Center]said. She cited economic prosperity during the 1990s; increased numbers of police, social workers and offenders in jail; and widespread introduction of antidepressant drugs in the late 1980s.
In addition to the states that have enacted Megan's Laws, the feds raced in to do the same. So now we have Megan's Laws galore and no evidence they work.
As to the costs, they are high. Here's one example:
To maintain the Internet registry, state police employ seven full-time civilians who earn between $35,000 and $52,000 a year, excluding benefits, according to state records.
Though the state orders local governments to monitor offenders' whereabouts and notify communities when a high-risk offender moves nearby, local and county taxpayers foot the bill, Assistant State Attorney General Jessica Oppenheim said.
Routine door-to-door notifications can cost thousands of dollars. Police in Voorhees, for example, said they had expected to spend about $3,000 to alert people in the sparsely populated Ashland development that a high-risk sex offender had moved in. The offender moved again before police started the notification.
If the offender lives in a high-rise, it costs even more. Some other examples:
Camden County, with 256 high-risk sex offenders, spends about $232,000 a year in salaries and benefits to administer Megan's Law, according to the Prosecutor's Office.
Essex County, home to 341 high-risk offenders, spends more than $1 million a year, said Paul Loriquet, spokesman for the Prosecutor's Office.
In New Jersey, it's the prosecutors' office that bears the cost.
Couldn't those funds be better used elsewhere? I think so.
I'm also skeptical of every law passed in the name of a singular crime victim. They tend to be based on passion, rather than reason.
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