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New Jersey DOC Report: Megan’s Law Costly and Ineffective

by Matt Clarke

In December 2008, the New Jersey Department of Corrections (DOC) submitted a research report on the practical and monetary effects of Megan’s Law to the U.S. Department of Justice. The report concluded that Megan’s Law, which requires registration of sex offenders and community notification of their presence, is both costly and ineffective.

The DOC undertook research 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. The study focused on the ten years prior to and ten years immediately following the enactment of Megan’s Law, reviewed data on 550 sex offenders released between 1990 and 2000 and collected information on the implementation and ongoing Megan’s Law administration costs in the 15 counties that responded to a survey. Over the twenty-year period, 48 of the studied sex offenders were rearrested for another sex offense, a rate of 7.6%.

Among other things, the research revealed that Megan’s Law had no effect on community tenure or reducing sexual re-offenses. It also had no effect on the type of first-time sexual offense or re-offense or on the number of victims involved in sexual offenses. Sentences for sexual offenses were about twice as long prior to the enactment of Megan’s Law than thereafter, but amount of time served in prison remained about the same. Significantly fewer sex offenders were paroled after Megan’s Law was enacted than before.

The report stated that start-up costs for Megan’s Law totaled $555,565 and, in 2007, administrative costs were $4 mil-lion for the 15 of New Jersey’s 21 counties that responded to information requests. Implementation costs for all of New Jersey are estimated at $714,457 and annual costs are estimated to be $5,110,477.

The report concluded that, “[g]iven the lack of demonstrated effect of Megan’s Law on sexual offenses, the growing costs may not be justifiable.”

All 50 states and the District of Columbia have enacted versions of Megan’s Law after the federal government pressured them to do in 1996. New Jersey’s version of Megan’s Law requires sex offenders to register their addresses with local police stations within specified time limits. The public is then notified of the presence of the sex offender in the neighborhood.

New Jersey has a three-tier community-notification system according to likelihood to re-offend. Tier one is for those least likely to re-offend and requires notification of only the victim and law enforcement. Tier one registrants received a low risk assessment score and are in therapy, employed and free of drugs and alcohol. Tier two requires notification of organizations, day care centers, schools and summer camps. Tier two registrants received a moderate to high risk as-sessment score, are unemployed, didn’t comply with supervision, maintain their innocence, show no remorse, abused drugs or alcohol, stalked children and/or made threats. Tier three requires that the entire community be notified through posters and pamphlets. Tier three registrants committed a heinous crime, have a high-risk assessment score, exhibit repetitive and compulsive behavior, have a sexual preference for children, refuse or fail to comply with treatment, claim innocence and/or show no remorse.

The overall rate of sex offenses in New Jersey has fallen steadily from 51 crimes per 100,000 population in 1986 to 29 crimes per 100,000 population in 2005. The rate of decline was unaffected by the enactment of Megan’s Law.

Source: Megan’s Law: Assessing the Practical and Monetary Efficacy, Research & Evaluation Unit, Office of Policy and Planning, New Jersey Department of Corrections, December 2008, National Institute of Justice Grant #200-IJ-CX-0018

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