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U.S. Department of Justice
Office of Justice Programs
National Institute of Justice


T oward C riminal J ustice S olutions

April 09
NCJ 225402

Sex Offender Registration and Notification:
Limited Effects in New Jersey
by Kristen M. Zgoba, Ph.D., and Karen Bachar

In 1994, 7-year-old Megan Kanka was raped and
murdered by Jesse Timmendequas, a sex offender
who had been released after serving a maximum
sentence. In response to this event and other sex
crimes, community members successfully lobbied
for the enactment of a law that requires sex offender
registration and notification to the public that a sex
offender is living and working in the community.
Since the mid-1990s, all 50 states and the District
of Columbia have passed similar legislation, collectively referred to as “Megan’s Law.” Underlying
these laws is the belief that notifying the public of
the presence of sex offenders in their community
allows citizens to take protective measures against
sex offenders who live nearby.
Researchers for the first time have conducted an
independent scientific assessment of the effects of
the law in New Jersey.1 They analyzed data from
before and after the law was enacted. The study’s
primary goal was to examine the impact of the law
on the state as a whole and each county within
the state. (See “Limitations of the Study” for what
researchers were unable to examine.)
Researchers studying the impact of registration
and notification laws in other states have found
similar results.2

Megan’s Law in New Jersey
In New Jersey, sex offenders are required to
register with the local police department within a specified time after release from prison.
Registration and notification are separate steps
in New Jersey, but are often referred to as one
process as they are in other states. Notification
to the public and past victims is determined by
the level of risk the offender poses. Placement
in a tier is determined by a risk assessment
instrument the state of New Jersey uses to
estimate an offender’s likelihood of committing another offense.
Offenders who represent the lowest risk are
placed in tier one. They are only required to
notify law enforcement officials and the victims after release. Tier two classification represents moderate risk of reoffense and requires
notification of organizations, educational institutions, day care centers and summer camps.
Tier three offenders are predicted to present
the greatest risk to reoffend. Placement in this
category generates the most legal resistance
because it calls for the broadest level of notification. Under the law, a sizable portion of the
community is notified through posters, pamphlets and, more recently, the Internet.

n Sex offense rates in New Jersey have been on a

consistent downward trend since 1985. During this
period, rearrests for violent crime (whether sex
crimes or not) also decreased. When the researchers examined the decline in each county and then
examined the state as a whole, the resulting 	
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statistical analysis showed that the greatest rate
of decline for sex offending occurred prior to 1994
and the least rate of decline occurred after 1995.
Hence the data show that the greatest rate of
decline in sex offending occurred prior to the passage and implementation of Megan’s Law.

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n 	Megan’s Law did not reduce the number of

rearrests for sex offenses, nor did it have any
demonstrable effect on the time between when
sex offenders were released from prison and
the time they were rearrested for any new
offense, such as a drug, theft or sex offense.
n The majority of sexual offenders sentenced in

New Jersey are convicted of incest and child
molestation. In more than half the cases, the
victim and offender know each other. Megan’s
Law did not have an effect on this pattern: The
bulk of offenses and reoffenses committed both
before and after the law remained child molestation and incest.
n Megan’s Law had no demonstrable effect on the

number of victims involved in sexual offenses,
i.e., the data show no reduction in the numbers
of victims.
n Sexual offenders convicted after Megan’s Law

was passed received shorter sentences than
those convicted before the law; sentences
before Megan’s Law were nearly twice as long
as those afterwards. However, fewer sexual
offenders have been paroled since the law was
passed, due largely to changes in sentencing
guidelines. As a result, offenders convicted
before and after Megan’s Law serve approximately the same amount of time.
n Estimates of the cost show that New Jersey

spent $555,565 to implement the law in 1995. In
2006, the estimated cost of implementing the law
was approximately $3.9 million, based on data
received from 15 of New Jersey’s 21 counties.

About the New Jersey Study
Phase One: Identify Trends
In phase one of the study, researchers used a
pre-post research design to determine trends in
the rates of sexually based offenses reported by
law enforcement agencies in the 21 counties of
New Jersey — 10 years before to 10 years after
the implementation of Megan’s Law. To compare trends, data on violent, nonsexual crime and
drug offenses were also collected and analyzed
for the same period. All data came from the FBI’s
Uniform Crime Reports. Prevalence rates for three
types of offenses — sexually based offenses,
nonsexually based offenses and drug offenses
— were established using population estimates
from the Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor
Statistics guidelines and cross-referenced with the
Sourcebook of Criminal Justice Statistics, a yearly
publication of the federal government.

Limitations of the Study
The greatest challenge in conducting research
about sexual offenses is the low rate of reported sexual offenses. Because these crimes tend
to be underreported, official sources of data
and most measures of recidivism may underrepresent true offending rates.
Another challenge in this study was determining whether Megan’s Law served as a deterrent. Although the study found long-term
downward trends in sexual arrest rates, it was
not possible to determine whether the results
were due to decreases in new, first-time sex
offenses (general deterrence) or to decreases
in sexual reoffenses (specific deterrence).
The study did not examine the extent to which
sex offender registration and community notification increased surveillance and prepared
the public to take preventive action.

Phase Two: Compare “Before” and “After”
In phase two, researchers used a sample of 550 sex
offenders arrested and released from New Jersey
Department of Correction facilities before and after
the implementation of Megan’s Law to examine the
differences between the two groups. Pre-post comparisons looked for differences in general reoffense
arrest rates, sexual reoffense rates, harm (violent
offense rates, percentage of child victims) and community tenure.
Phase Three: Estimate Costs
The final phase of the project aimed to assess costs
associated with the implementation and current
operation of community registration and notification
activities in New Jersey. Cost assessment questionnaires were mailed to the Megan’s Law Units in the
prosecutor’s offices for the 21 counties. Survey questions were classified under two general categories:
start-up costs (equipment, Internet sex offender registry) and ongoing yearly implementation costs for
the 2006 calendar year (staff salaries, Internet registry maintenance, equipment maintenance/supplies
and office supplies). Fifteen of 21 counties completed
the survey. Along with the cost assessment survey,
prior New Jersey state budgets were reviewed for
costs associated with the incarceration, rehabilitation
and tracking of sex offenders.


Demographics of the New Jersey Study
Convicted offenders and their offense types in this
study were similar before and after Megan’s Law
was passed. Compared to the average criminal,
sex offenders are generally older, married or have
been married, employed, better educated, and have
children or stepchildren. In this study, 79 percent of
the offenses were child molestations and 20 percent
were rapes.
In 48 percent of the cases, the sex offender was a
member of the victim’s family. In 42 percent of the
cases, the perpetrator lived with the victim, and in
77 percent of the cases, the crime occurred in the
victim’s or offender’s home.


1. The New Jersey study report Megan’s Law:
Assessing the Practical and Monetary Efficacy is
available at:
2. Other studies of the impact of laws in states
with similar registration and notification statutes

n	 Walker, Jeffery T., Sean Maddan, Bob E.

Vásquez, Amy C. VanHouten, and Gwen
Ervin-McLarty, The Influence of Sex Offender
Registration and Notification Laws in the United
States, Arkansas Crime Information Center,
2008, available at:

n	 Prescott, J.J., and Jonah E. Rockoff, Do Sex

Offender Registration and Notification Laws
Affect Criminal Behavior? Cambridge, Mass.:
National Bureau of Economic Research, NBER
Working Paper No. W13803, February 2008,
available at:
n	 Levenson, Jill S., David A. D’Amora, and

Andrea L. Hern, “Megan’s Law and Its Impact
on Community Re-Entry for Sex Offenders,”
Behavioral Sciences and the Law 25 (2007):
587–602, available at:
n	 Sandler, Jeffrey C., Naomi J. Freeman, and

Kelly M. Socia, “Does a Watched Pot Boil? A
Time-Series Analysis of New York State’s Sex
Offender Registration and Notification Law;”
Psychology, Public Policy, and Law 14(4)(2008):
284–302, available at:
About the authors: Kristen M. Zgoba, Ph.D.,
is Supervisor of Research at the New Jersey
Department of Corrections. Karen Bachar is a Social
Science Analyst at the National Institute of Justice.

This document is not intended to create, does not create, and may not be relied upon to create any rights, substantive or procedural, enforceable at law by any party in any matter civil or criminal. Opinions or points of view expressed in this document represent
a consensus of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official position or policies of the U.S. Department of Justice. The
products and manufacturers discussed in this document are presented for informational purposes only and do not constitute product approval or endorsement by the U.S. Department of Justice.

U.S. Department of Justice
Office of Justice Programs
National Institute of Justice


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Sex Offender Registration and Notification: Research Finds
Limited Effects in New Jersey

Find This Study	

The full report of the New Jersey study, Megan’s Law: Assessing the Practical
and Monetary Efficacy, can be accessed at files1/nij/


T oward C riminal J ustice S olutions

NCJ 225402