About the Study 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.

Phase One: Identify Trends

Phase one of the study 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 from 1984 to 2004 — 10 years before to 10 years after the implementation of Megan’s Law. Data on violent, nonsexual crime and drug offenses were also collected and analyzed for the same period to compare trends. 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.

Phase Two: Compare “Before” and “After”

Phase two 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 assessed 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 were similar before and after Megan’s Law was passed. Compared to the average criminal, sex offenders are generally older, are more likely to be married or have been married, are more likely to be employed, are better educated and are more likely to have children or step-children. In terms of the offenses, 79 percent of the crimes committed 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.

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 repeat sexual offenses (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.

Date Created: January 22, 2009