Megan’s Law

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Passed in 1996, Megan’s Law was put into place to help protect the public from sex offenders and related crimes. This law requires convicted sex offenders to notify the public if they’re visiting, working in, or living within a community. This law gives law enforcement rights they wouldn’t have otherwise to identify, advertise, and monitor these individuals. Passed by Congress as an amendment to the Jacob Wetterling Crimes Against Children’s Act, it requires that every state have in place some procedure that notifies the public when an offender is released into their community. However, the law does not stipulate the procedure and criteria for inclusion on the sex offender registry. And this, as we will see in this analysis, is sometimes a problem.

The law was named after a seven-year-old girl, Megan Kanka, from New Jersey who was raped and killed by a convicted sex offender that lived across the street from her. This girl’s death inspired her family and lawmakers to create a law warning families when a sex offender is in the vicinity so that they might protect themselves. The New Jersey legislature passed Megan’s Law in 1994, but it was not actually the first law put in place that addressed sex offenders. In fact, California had passed a law in 1947 that address sex offenders living in communities. Today, every state has some sort of Megan’s law in place.

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While I agree that the law was put in my place for a very good reason and that it does, in some ways, allow communities to decide and be aware of the proximity in which they’ll live to an offender, I think the law is flawed, and the registry itself is creating problems in certain states and for the offenders themselves. While there are a variety of notification programs in place in various states, such as mail, email, online crime maps, etc., most states post their registry online, which is available to the public. New services have even popped up that will monitor your neighborhood (for a fee) and alert you when/if an offender moves in. However, despite this accessibility, sometimes people are still unaware of the offender. For example, according to Knott (1999), the neighbors of a convicted sex offender was charged with a new offense said “they had no idea of his past and had never bothered to check the list.”

Other examples include the loopholes and other gray areas in the system. For example, in Texas, even child sex offenders are listed on the registry. In fact, the name and address of a ten-year-old is now posted on the registry (Davis, 2005, p. 11). In another case in Texas a young teen male asked a girl out on a first date, and even though she initially accepted the date, she subsequently turned him down, which resulted in him being added to the registry (David, 2005, p. 19). In another case, a two-year-old in Oklahoma was placed on the registry because of sexual behavior problems (the child was seen touching another child and kissing the child (Finn, 1997, p. 144).

Obviously, cases like these are exceptions but it proves that the system needs revisited and reformed. There have also been additional effects on offenders that need to be considered. For example, some states, for instance, Florida and Minnesota, are considering laws that would ban offenders from living in certain areas.

There is obviously no doubt that a registry alerting communities of sex offenders in the area is a necessary evil, but the system does work against offenders and create a kind of scarlet letter stamp on them that they can’t erase, and sometimes it’s simply human error, where people are incorrectly added to the registry. Also the system hurts the families of these offenders by naming names and addresses for the public to see. And, as discussed above, sometimes, especially concerning young offenders, the system’s rules just do not work.

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