Sunday, 16 January 2005 - 8:45 AM

This presentation is part of: Services for Criminal Offenders

The Impact of Megan's Law on Sex Offender Reintegration

Jill S. Levenson, PhD, Lynn University.

Purpose: The purpose of this study was to better understand the positive and negative, intended and unintended, consequences of community notification on sex offendersí rehabilitation and reintegration. Two research questions were postulated, although specific hypotheses were not proposed. First, what are offendersí experiences with community notification and perceptions of the impact of Meganís Law on their lives? Second, do different types of notification strategies produce different effects? Florida was seen as an ideal venue in which to conduct such an investigation, because it has one of the broadest notification laws in the U.S. Method: A sample of 183 convicted male sex offenders from two Florida treatment programs in Fort Lauderdale and Tampa agreed to participate in the study. They completed a survey which asked about the types of community notification strategies used in offendersí neighborhoods, the negative impact of Meganís Law, the positive impact of Meganís Law, opinions about notification, and opinions about the fairness of public disclosure of certain types of personal information. Participants were asked to rate Likert scales indicating their degree of agreement with the issue in question, and were also given the opportunity to provide narrative responses. Results: Overall, about one-third of participants had experienced dire events such as the loss of a job or home, threats or harassment, or property damage. Physical assault was reported as a relatively rare occurrence (5%). However, the majority of participants endorsed other negative effects, such as stress, isolation, loss of relationships, fear, shame, embarrassment, and hopelessness. Some respondents noted positive effects of Meganís Law on their lives, including motivation to prevent reoffense and increased honesty with friends and family. Few sex offenders believed that communities are safer because of Meganís Law, and more than half reported that the information posted about them on Floridaís Internet registry was incorrect. Implications for practice: Most offenders reported that they have felt the social or psychological impact of Meganís Law. A lack of social support has been identified as a dynamic risk factor for sex offense recidivism. Such stressors may threaten a sex offenderís reintegration and may even trigger some sex offenders to relapse. Although sex offenders inspire little sympathy from the public, ostracizing them may increase their danger. Implications for policy: Social policies should strive to meet their stated goals in the most cost-effective manner possible. Community notification comes with high costs related to personnel, time, and budgetary resources. Although broad notification has been upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court, it may behoove states like Florida to consider a tier system of notification. Nearly two thirds of the offenders in this sample were estimated to be in the low to medium risk range. A tier system can help reduce fiscal and manpower demands while allowing communities to more accurately identify those sex offenders who pose the greatest threat to public safety. At the same time, a tier system might decrease some of the negative effects of community notification on lower risk offenders.

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