Misinformation is an ongoing problem and challenge for the sex offender reform legal community. Every day, the media reports stories of sex offenders who are being charged with a parole violation or failure to register, which usually inflames a community’s fears surrounding sex crimes and offenders. For instance, the Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office posted an announcement on their blog that they apprehended a female sex offender for an alleged violation of her Community Supervision for Life (CSL) conditions – very similar to another kind of supervision called Parole Supervision for Life (PSL). The report does not provide any information regarding the nature of the offense –was it a new sex offense or a procedural violation? Within hours, several news websites seized the information, and posted articles relaying the Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office story.
How can this be problematic? First, each news source likes to put their own spin on the story. For instance, a local radio station writes that the arrested sex offender is not on the Sex Offender Internet Registry, and that a “trusted law enforcement source” states that it is probably because the offender was convicted as a juvenile. This is an incorrect assumption. Not all sex offenders are listed on the New Jersey Sex Offender Internet Registry. Juvenile sex offenders and Tier One offenders, i.e., low risk of re-offense sex offenders, are not posted on the public internet registry. Only moderate- and high-risk offenders (Tier Two and Tier Three) are on the public registry.
Second, not all CSL violations are sex offenses. In fact, the vast majority of CSL violations – like Megan’s Law violation – are procedural in nature. For instance, if a CSL parolee was charged with littering, she could potentially be arrested for a parole violation.
Lastly, vague news reports of sex offenders arrested for violations is problematic because they do not present a balanced picture. The purpose of Megan’s Law is to protect the public from sex offense recidivism. Many factors impact the likelihood of sex offense recidivism. For instance, the sex offender arrested in Ocean County is a female. The law firm of Maynard & Sumner, LLC regularly utilizes expert psychologists who specialize in the field of evaluating and treating sex offenders. One of our experts says the following about female sex offenders: “Females who commit sexual offenses have been found to present a re-offense risk of only between 3% – 5%.” This represents a low risk of sexually re-offending.
We have to be careful not to over-sensationalise. Megan’s Law is only useful to the public if the information provided is accurate and well-expounded.