New Jersey’s pioneering Megan’s Law, which costs millions of dollars to alert citizens when sex offenders move nearby, may not make children safer, suggests research reported by the Philadelphia Inquirer. A federally funded study under way in Trenton is trying to determine whether Megan’s Law is worth the cost of its “enormously expensive” monitoring and enforcement requirements, said Phillip Witt, a consultant. A declining trend of sex attacks on children began before the law took effect and has continued, raising the suggestion that Megan’s Law – one of the first of its kind in the nation – may not have influenced the trend. “We don’t know whether Megan’s Law really works,” said Witt, who helped create the risk-assessment system used by New Jersey courts to classify sex offenders. “Just a few studies have looked at whether community notification laws are effective,” he said. “I believe they have very little effect.”
The new study, funded by the National Institute of Justice, the U.S. Justice Department’s research branch, is expected to be finished early next year. The study has charted sex offenses against children in the decade before 1994 and in the decade after. Researchers were surprised that a steady decline in sex crimes across New Jersey began in 1991 – three years before Megan’s Law. “Sex-offender rates are down, and we can’t attribute it to Megan’s Law,” said Kristen Zgoba, a Corrections Department staffer leading the study. “Is it worth the amount of money and manpower we’re pouring into it?” Nationally, sex offenses against children fell 49 percent between 1990 and 2004, says the Crimes Against Children Research Center at the University of New Hampshire.