Megan's Law Prompts Fairness Question in Online Notification of Sex Offenders

January 19, 1999 12:00 am

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ACLU News Wire: 1-19-99 — Megan’s Law Prompts Fairness Question in Online Notification of Sex Offenders

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NEW YORK — The number of states that are posting the names, addresses and even photos of sex offenders online is growing, USA Today reports. The increase comes in response to federal and state legislation that requires states to release “relevant” information about child molesters and violent sexual offenders to the public.

But USA Today notes that the postings have reignited a debate over whether the public’s right to know outweighs the privacy rights of those people who have already paid for their crimes.

“People who’ve been convicted of crimes, who serve their sentences, shouldn’t be the subject of continuing punishment,” Barry Steinhardt, Associate Director of the American Civil Liberties Union told the paper.

Notification laws will not prevent sex offenders from committing crimes, the ACLU said but rather will victimize rehabilitated ex-offenders and their families. Those in stable environments have the highest likelihood of staying out of trouble. Attacking the family unit by publicizing this information will only make ex-offenders more likely to reoffend.

Public disclosure of sex offenders can also lead to dangerous vigilantism against ex-offenders and their families. In January of 1997, a California ex-offender’s car was fire-bombed after his name was released. In New Jersey, community members beat a man they believed to be a paroled sex offender. Another individual fired shots into the house of a listed sex offender, nearly hitting his landlord who lived in the apartment above. In Washington State and New Jersey, ex-offenders’ homes were destroyed by arson after their names were released.

The vast majority of sex offenses, the ACLU has pointed out, take place in the home, by family members or friends, and most of these offenses go unreported. The only thing that will protect children from sex offenders is adequate parental supervision and educating children on how to identify inappropriate behavior and where to get help.

Source: USA Today, January 19, 1999

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