Bill could add thousands of NJ sex offenders to Internet registry
A New Jersey bill would require information about all sex offenders to be published online, regardless of the type of offense or risk of recidivism.
Public identification as a sex offender can have numerous adverse effects on a person's relationships, living options and ability to find work. In New Jersey, the information that is recorded as part of sex offender registration is only publicly shared if an offender is judged to pose a significant risk to others. However, a new bill could make information about every registered sex offender in the state available online.
This bill has the potential to affect many people in River Edge. The Washington Times reported in late 2014 that there were about 15,000 registered sex offenders in New Jersey. About 4,085 of those people, or less than one-third, were included in the state's public online database. If the bill passes, information about virtually all of these convicted offenders will be made available to the public.
Updating Megan's Law
The bill seeks to broaden the scope of Megan's Law and ensure compliance with the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act, according to The Bergen Dispatch. In addition to requiring the public sharing of information about all convicted sex offenders, the bill would make the following changes:
- Offenders would have to notify authorities of plans to travel internationally at least three weeks before departing.
- New Jersey would be required to share information about offenders with other states and the National Sex Offender Registry.
- The gap between criminal sentencing and classification as a sex offender would be eliminated; offenders would have to immediately register with local authorities.
- The state's risk-based sex offender classification system, which categorizes sex offenders as low, moderate or high risk, would be replaced with another three-tier system. The new system would classify offenders based on the nature of each offense and the length of the required registration period.
All of these changes could have significant impacts on convicted offenders. The release of information about a greater number of offenders could be especially detrimental.
Potential public registry issues
Critics worry that this change could indiscriminately punish offenders who were convicted of minor offenses or have little risk of recidivism. To illustrate the issue, The Washington Times cites the example of a conviction of statutory rape. An adult over the age of 18 can be charged with statutory rape after having consensual sex with a minor. Many of the people who have been convicted of this charge may have little risk of recidivism.
Critics also contend that offenders who are considered likely to offend again may benefit more from treatment and monitoring than from strict registry laws. A 2008 study found that Megan's law did not reduce alleged first-time offenses or recidivism. An expanded public registry might simply punish more convicted offenders without offering real gains.
Responding to sex offender charges
This new bill serves as a reminder of the serious long-term ramifications that a sex offender conviction can result in. Anyone who has been accused of a sex crime in New Jersey should consider meeting with an attorney to discuss the best way of addressing the charge.