Megan's Law"Literature Review" Chapter

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Megan's Law And The Impact On Sex Offender Reintegration

Megan's Law essentially represents an informal name for a set of laws in the United States demanding law enforcement experts to make material and statistics available to the community concerning RSOs or registered sex offenders, generated in response to the homicide of Megan Kanka. Separately, states choose what information the public may access and view and how it should be distributed. Frequently included information or statistics is the offender's picture, name, address, nature of crime, and incarceration date. The free public websites host the information, but newspapers can the information. It can also be distributed in pamphlets, media or any other avenues. On the federal level, Megan's Law goes by a different name, the Sexual Offender or Jacob Wetterling Act of 1994.

The act requires any persons condemned of sex crimes against minors to inform local law enforcement of upcoming or current changes of employment or address after discharge from custody, be it from jail or psychiatric facility. The notice requirement may be obligatory for a fixed set of time. The normal period ranges from ten years all the way to permanently. Some states choose to authorize registration covering all sex crimes, regardless of having minors involved.

Failing to register results in a felony conviction. This includes failure to update information. Megan's Law offers two significant information services to the public. They are community notification and sex offender registration. States vary in what details they provide as part of community notification and sex offender registration. In fact, some went through numerous changes since the passing of Megan's Law in regards to community notification and sex offender registration- protocol. This literature review enables further analysis concerning effectiveness of Megan's law, how to improve it, impact it has on the community and RSOs, and history of the law. The main goal of the literature is to find out the efficacy of these programs; how these protocols enable or restrict sex offender reintegration into society.

Overview of Community Notification Programs

Community notification programs vary, so do registration guidelines. However, most states require any offenders convicted of an offense of a sexual nature to include various parts of personal information. These are the convicted person's name including any aliases, date of birth, home address, social security number, physical description, photograph, fingerprints, the kind of offense the offender was imprisoned of, the date of sentencing, the age of the victim, the punishment received, the place of school or employment, and any vehicles registered to the offender. Even with these general requirements, some states and communities enforce additional rules and laws called community notification laws due to stranger-based child abductions. These laws allow for creation of programs meant to provide additional information to help communities identify sex offenders more likely to re-offend (although most convicted sex offenders statistically speaking do not re-offend).

The Iowa registration and recidivism study analyzed the relationship between risk assessment scores and recidivism rates for both the registry and pre-registry groups, and found larger proportions of recidivistic sex offenders as risk assessment scores increased. This suggests that empirically-based risk assessment can indeed assist in identifying the registered sex offenders who are more likely to reoffend, and would be useful in alerting citizens about the most dangerous sex offender (Levenson, D'Amora & Hern, 2007, p. 598).

Programs such as these push for research on the subject that allow the public to learn what trends exist within the sex offender population. It also allows for closer examination of what kinds of evidence point to specific information. For instance, countless protective activities used by participants in studies like those that Bandy's linked to "general crime prevention rather than to child sexual abuse prevention. With regard to the one tactic that specifically addressed sexual abuse (warn children to be aware of sex offenders in the neighborhood), only 18% of respondents reported that they took this precaution" Levenson, 2011, p. 230), show the lack of community awareness and activism towards sex offender notification. Statistics from studies like these demonstrate weaknesses in programs from the perspective of the community. They allow for continual improvement of not only the programs, but the series of laws that govern these programs.

History of Megan's Law and Goals

The history behind Megan's law begins with the history of RCNLS or registration and community notification laws. In 1996, Congress passed Megan's Law. This law dictates compulsory community notification as well as possible civil pledge for those considered by the State to be unsafe sexual offenders. It has lasted since then with Megan's law influencing the passing of other laws and legislation geared towards improving the notification system. It provides additional means for research on efficacy of prevention of sex offender re-offense and allows states to modify the law to suit the needs of the community. "In 2013, Megan's Law continues to influence the treatment of sexual offenders under law and the social construction of a highly publicized, yet statistically rare, sexual crime -- the rape and murder of a young female child by a depraved male stranger" (Shelby & Hatch, 2014, p. 402).

The law is based on the murder of Megan Kanka, a seven-year-old rape and murder victim. Because of her death, law enforcement require sex offenders to notify the community publically of their previous transgression by registering or performing other actions. With the database active, parents have the option of searching for sex offenders near them. They also may provide law enforcement with any details of potential suspects of sexual crimes based off the information derived from these databases.

Although sexual offenders do not typically re-offend, the law in place helps prevent the small percentage that do. This is especially the case for those caught for sexual assault against minors. Megan's law provided the starting point for communities to become aware of and proactive against potential sexual offender activities like the murder and rape of Megan.

Thanks to these laws and other laws similar to it like Amber alert, sex crime victims, especially children, have a chance at justice or more importantly prevention. Victims like Megan deserve a chance for a safe future. Sexual offenders should pay for their crimes and the obligatory registration helps sexual offenders understand the consequences of their actions. However, as the literature review continues, clear improvements must be made. Sexual re-offense remains a possibility for these kinds of criminals and community awareness is crucial in efficacy of these types of laws and programs.

Positive Aspects of Megan's Law and the Effect on Reintegration

Largely, the effect of Megan's Law on communities and offenders remains generally unknown. Additionally, no research has scrutinized the discrepancy effects of several notification policies. The purpose of research and studies aimed at Megan's law is to understand better the negative and positive, unintended and intended, penalties of community notification on reintegration and sex offenders' rehabilitation. For example, what are offenders' perceptions and experiences of the effect of a law like Megan's Law? Secondly, do diverse categories of notification approaches produce dissimilar effects? A study performed in 2005 in the state of Florida provides an ideal venue to understand these questions, as they possess the broadest statute for Megan's law.

The results of the study showed "Only 18% of the sex offenders surveyed agreed or strongly agreed that they were at risk to reoffend. About 25% agreed that it was fair for the community to know their level of risk" (Levenson & Cotter, 2005 p. 13). As previously mentioned, the risk for re-offending is small compared to other categories of crime. Still, 18% shows how important it remains to keep an active approach in handling sexual offender registration and raising community awareness. Although only a quarter of participants agreed with the registration, it shows that some sexual offenders feel the justification for such policies and laws. States like Florida show not only how diverse the approaches are, but also how little offenders registered know of such approaches. "Communities in Florida appear to use diverse strategies to notify the public about the presence of sex offenders. Notably, about half of the participants were not cognizant of the approaches used in their neighborhoods…" (Levenson & Cotter, 2005 p. 13).

Positively speaking, the study highlights the effects of community notification does not have to affect the offender in a negative way. "Not all participants reported suffering dire consequences or vigilantism as a result of community notification, but the proportion of offenders reporting such effects was considerable. The most common negative occurrences were job loss and threats or harassment" (Levenson & Cotter, 2005 p. 13). People saw the offenders on the list and generated awareness of who lives in their neighborhood. Although some faced harassment and job loss, few feared for vigilantism.

Another study derived survey data from a sample of 333 in-treatment classified sex offenders. The authors found the neighborhood "social context exerts an important influence on sex offenders' perceptions of neighborhood support. We also find that offenders are less likely to worry about the negative repercussions… [END OF PREVIEW]

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