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

January 22, 2009

Researchers for the first time have conducted an independent scientific assessment of the impact of Megan’s Law in New Jersey.

Researchers examined the impact of Megan’s Law on New Jersey as a whole and each county within the state.

Researchers analyzed and compared data from before and after enactment of Megan’s Law in New Jersey. They found that:

  • Sex offense rates in New Jersey have been on a consistent downward trend since 1985. During this period, rearrests for all 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 statistical analysis showed that the greatest rate of decline for sex offending occurred before 1994 (i.e., before the passage and implementation of Megan's Law) and the least rate of decline occurred after 1995.
  • Passage of 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. 
  • The majority of sex offenders sentenced in New Jersey are convicted of child molestation and incest. In more than half of 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.
  • 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 number of victims.
  • Sex offenders convicted both before and after Megan’s Law serve approximately the same amount of time. Sex offenders convicted after Megan's Law received shorter sentences than those convicted before the law. Sentences were nearly twice as long before the law was passed. But after the law was passed, fewer sexual offenders were paroled largely because of changes in sentencing guidelines. 
  • The researchers estimated the cost of implementing the law. Estimates 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.     

Read the full report from this study Megan's Law: Assessing the Practical and Monetary Efficacy (pdf, 46 pages).

Researchers studying the impact of registration and notification laws in other states have found similar results.

About Megan's Law

In 1994, 7-year-old Megan Kanka was raped and murdered by Jesse Timmendequas, a convicted 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 requiring sex offender registration and public notification that a sex offender is living and working in the community.

Since the mid-1990's, 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 potentially dangerous sex offenders who live nearby.

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 they are released 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.

Date Created: January 22, 2009