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Megan’s Law: Assessing Practical ,Monetary Efficacy

October 21, 2009

Megan’s Law: Assessing the Practical and Monetary Efficacy (PDF file)
Published by National Criminal Justice Reference Service
Federal funds provided by the U.S. Department of Justice

Executive Summary:

The research that follows concerns the various impacts of community notification and registration laws (Megan’s Law) in New Jersey. Although this report includes a variety of interesting findings and many ideas that will be explored upon post grant period, this research was embarked upon, in general, to investigate:

1) the effect of Megan’s Law on the overall rate of sexual offending over time;
2) its specific deterrence effect on re-offending, including the level of general and sexual offense recidivism, the nature of sexual re-offenses, and time to first re-arrest for sexual and non-sexual re-offenses (i.e., community tenure); and
3) the costs of implementation and annual expenditures of Megan’s Law.

These three primary foci were investigated using three different methodologies and samples. Phase One was a 21-year (10 years prior and 10 years after implementation, and the year of implementation) trend study of sex offenses in each of New Jersey’s counties and of the state as a whole. In Phase Two, data on 550 sexual offenders released during the years 1990 to 2000 were collected, and outcomes of interest were analyzed. Finally, Phase Three collected implementation and ongoing costs of administering Megan’s Law. The following points highlight the major findings of the three phases of the study:

  • New Jersey, as a whole, has experienced a consistent downward trend of sexual offense rates with a significant change in the trend in 1994.
  • In all but two counties, sexual offense rates were highest prior to 1994 and were lowest after 1995.
  • County trends exhibit substantial variation and do not reflect the statewide trend, suggesting that the statewide change point in 1994 is an artifact of aggregation.
  • In the offender release sample, there is a consistent downward trend in re-arrests, re-convictions and re-incarcerations over time similar to that observed in the trend study, except in 1995 when all measures spiked to a high for that period. This resulted insignificant differences between cohorts (i.e., those released prior to and after Megan’s Law was implemented).
  • Re-arrests for violent crime (whether sexual or not) also declined steadily over the same period, resulting in a significant difference between cohorts (i.e., those released prior to and after Megan’s Law was implemented).
  • Megan’s Law has no effect on community tenure (i.e., time to first re-arrest).
  • Megan’s Law showed no demonstrable effect in reducing sexual re-offenses.
  • Megan’s Law has no effect on the type of sexual re-offense or first time sexual offense (still largely child molestation/incest).
  • Megan’s Law has no effect on reducing the number of victims involved in sexual offenses.
  • Sentences received prior to Megan’s Law were nearly twice as long as those received after Megan’s Law was passed, but time served was approximately the same.
  • Significantly fewer sexual offenders have been paroled after the implementation of Megan’s Law than before (this is largely due to changes in sentencing).
  • Costs associated with the initial implementation as well as ongoing expenditures continue to grow over time. Start up costs totaled $555,565 and current costs (in 2007) totaled approximately 3.9 million dollars for the responding counties.
  • Given the lack of demonstrated effect of Megan’s Law on sexual offenses, the growing costs may not be justifiable.
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