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Facts about Megan's Law and
Sex Offenders in New York State

Blog: Sex Offenders; A Reality Based Discussion
Latest posts:
"Gaming Sex Offenders"
"This Chart says it all: The sex offender registry has had no useful impact"

Study Finds New York Sex Offender Registration and Notification Laws Have No Effect

 New York Map Showing Counties with Sex Offender Residency Laws
and why such laws are ineffective and counterproductive

NY Senate Committee Points in a New Direction for  Sex Offender Management in New York State
- This new direction is based on facts and research, rather than mythology and hysteria.
Reforming the laws in the ways this report suggests will make our communities safer and will potentially be more cost effective. (Update: This report was produced while the Democrats were briefly in control of the NY Senate. These recommendations seemingly have become inoperative since the Republicans have regained control.

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Common Sense Advocated
Victim's Mother

In 1989, 11 year old Jacob Wetterling was kidnapped and never seen again. His mother, Patty Wetterlilng, was instrumental in the 1994 passage of the federal Jacob Wetterling Act which required  states to establish sex offender registries. She recently said: "The challenge is, you can't treat all sex offenders the same; they're not. July 27, 2005)

The Jacob Wetterling Foundation advises: "Community Notification is not about chasing sex offenders out of our neighborhoods. We all face the challenge of building new communities, which recognize that sex offenders live and work among us. Experts state that sex offenders are less likely to re-offend if they live and work in an environment free of harassment… If we are going to make our communities safer, we need to use this law to our benefit. We need offenders to succeed, because if they don't, that means there will be another victim.” Read more...


A Detailed Analysis of Sex Offender Recidivism in New York State
Printable Version
by C. David Hess
Representative of SOhopeful of New York

New York State provides a wealth of studies on sex offender recidivism. While the thought of statistical studies causes the eyes of many to glaze over, any who are concerned that public policy be based on fact rather than mythology are grateful to have some hard data. It is extremely informative to look at the data gathered over the last 20 years.

The earliest study in this period was a New York Department of Corrections study (Profile and follow-up of sex offenders released in 1986, prepared by Canestrini, K., State of New York Department of Correctional Services) which followed 556 sex offenders released from state prisons in 1986. A total of 49% of these were returned to prison within the 9 year follow-up period. It should be noted that only 6% of these (34 out of 556) were returned to prison for a new sex crime. Most were returned for parole violations (27%) or for committing other crimes such as drug offenses. The study includes the clear statement: “These findings suggest that sex offenders are a diverse population and that when looking at sex offender recidivism it is important to distinguish total criminal activity from sexual reoffending.”  (p. 34)  Unfortunately, politicians and the media often do not do this. It also should be noted that this study was conducted before New York's Megan's Law was enacted.

New York regularly publishes 3 year follow-up studies of all those released from state prisons. Between 1985 and 2002 a total of 12,863 sex offenders were released. Only 272 of these (2.1%) were returned to prison for new sex crimes within three years of their release.  (2002 Releases: Three Year Post Release Follow-up, State of New York Department of Correctional Services, p. 18)  Of course, as in the above mentioned study, recidivism rates are higher if one counts those returned to prison for parole violations or for committing other crimes such as drug offenses. In terms of this overall rate of recidivism, it is important to note that sex offenders have a lower 3 year rate of recidivism (31%) than the general prison population (42%). Only 8% of sex offenders were returned to prison as a result of a conviction for a new crime. Most were returned for parole violations.

The latest sex offender recidivism study, Research Bulletin: Sex Offender Populations, Recidivism and Actuarial Assessment  (New York State Division of Probation and Correctional Alternatives, May, 2007) is unique in that it also includes those sentenced to probation and county jails. Most recidivism studies (including those previously cited) examine only those who were sentenced to prison. The study examined 19,827 offenders on the New York State Sex Offender Registry on March 31, 2005.

The heart of the study is contained in the following excerpts:

Probation is the most common sentence for sex offenders in New York State. Of the 2,944 sentences for offenses requiring registration on the Sex Offender Registry (SOR) in 2006, 1,206 were to probation, representing 41.0% of the total. Sentences to prison accounted for 31.0% (913) and sentences to local jails accounted for 16.9% (500).  There were 325 offenders in the “other” sentencing category, including fines and conditional discharges. A small number of sentences were categorized as unknown (120).  ( p. 1)

Table One: Proportion of Registered Sex Offenders Rearrested
(Among 19,827 offenders on the registry on March 31, 2005)

from Registration

New Arrest

Any New
Sex Offense

~1 Year



~2 Years



~5 Years



~8 Years



Source: DCJS: NYS Sex Offender Registry and NYS
 Computerized Criminal History Data Base

The DCJS data above included probationers, as well as parolees, those under custody and offenders whose sentence had expired... offenders are arrested and/or convicted of committing a new sex crime at a lower rate than other offenders who commit other new non-sexual crimes. (emphasis mine) (p. 3-4).

The report did not specify the reasons for arrests other than those arrested for new sex offenses.  It is likely (as seen in the previously mentioned studies) that most of these were for parole or probation violations.  In addition, many of these arrests were for Failure to Register. Sex offenders must update their registration at least once a year (and many, more often).  Another New York study reports that between 2002 and 2006, 1730 sex offenders were convicted (and certainly more were arrested) for Failure to Register. (Sex Offender Management 2006 Crimestat Update, New York Division of Criminal Justice Services, p.11) If  these figures and those from other years are eliminated that would bring the re-arrest rate down considerably.

In a sense the registry law "creates" crimes. This vicious cycle will likely increase as sex offender residency laws continue to proliferate. More registered sex offenders (RSOs) will be arrested for violating those. In turn, more RSOs will fail to register because the residency laws make it impossible for them to find housing. These new laws create an increasing "crime wave" by sex offenders which will, no doubt, increase calls for even more laws.  Meanwhile the rate of arrest for new sex crimes remains relatively stable and low.

Has Megan's Law reduced sex offender recidivism in New York State? There is no evidence that it has. This is apparent when one compares this latest study with the earlier pre-Megan's Law study. That study reported that within 9 years of their release, 49% were returned to prison (including for parole violations), but only 6% were returned for committing a new sex crime. The latest study shows a total re-arrest rate after 8 years of 48% and an 8% re-arrest rate for sex crimes.* It is not completely valid to compare these two studies. They involve different populations and recidivism is measured differently (return to prison vs. re-arrest), but it is striking that after more than 10 years experience with sex offender registration laws in New York State there has been no significant change in sex offender recidivism. It has remained relatively stable and low.


*Within 8 years of the initial date of registration, 11% of Level 3 offenders (highest risk), 7% of Level 2 offenders, and 6% of Level 1 offenders were arrested for another sex crime. (see more)


This chart, RSO (Registerable Sex Offense) Arrest Counts, says it all. It depicts every sex offense arrest in New York State for 21 years (10 years before the enactment of the sex offender registration law to 11 years afterward). The vertical line separates the before and after periods. The green line at the bottom shows arrests for those who had previously been convicted of a sex offense. The chart dramatically illustrates that 96% of those arrested for sex crimes in New York State have no prior convictions for sex crimes and thus are not listed on any registry. It also dramatically illustrates that the registry has had no impact on recidivism. Contrary to popular opinion, sex offender recidivism was low before the registry and low afterwards. (more)


Study Finds New York Sex Offender Registration and Notification Laws Have No Effect

Despite the fact that the federal and many state governments have enacted registration and community notification laws as a means to better protect communities from sexual offending, limited empirical research has been conducted to examine the impact of such legislation on public safety. Therefore, utilizing time-series analyses, this study examined differences in sexual offense arrest rates before and after the enactment of New York State's Sex Offender Registration Act. Results provide no support for the effectiveness of registration and community notification laws in reducing sexual offending by: (a) rapists, (b) child molesters, (c) sexual recidivists, or (d) first-time sex offenders. Analyses also showed that over 95% of all sexual offense arrests were committed by first-time sex offenders, casting doubt on the ability of laws that target repeat offenders to meaningfully reduce sexual offending.

 Does a watched pot boil? A time-series analysis of New York State's sex offender registration and notification law. Sandler, Jeffrey C.; Freeman, Naomi J.; Socia, Kelly M., Psychology, Public Policy, and Law. Vol 14(4), Nov 2008, 284-302.

A federally funded study by the New Jersey Department of Corrections had similar findings. It  found an overall rate of recidivism of sex crimes of 9% over the 6 1/2 year follow up period.

From the report: "Despite widespread community support for these laws, there is virtually no evidence to support their effectiveness in reducing either new first-time sex offenses (through protective measures or general deterrence) or sex re-offenses (through protective measures and specific deterrence)...Given the lack of demonstrated effect of Megan's Law on sexual offenses, the growing costs may not be justifiable."

More on this study (and a link to the study itself) may be found here

    ----Megan's Law: Assessing the Practical and Monetary Efficacy, December, 2008


Food for Thought
"Political parties are using sex offenders to demonstrate that they are tougher on law and order than the other state," said John La Fond, a retired law professor and author on sex offender treatment in Washington state. "No one really wants to know the facts anymore."

Seventy years ago, President Franklin D. Roosevelt told the country: The only thing we have to fear is fear itself. Today, we are told to fear everything but fear itself, which we embrace with widespread arms, outstretched hands and an open wallet. We treat fear like Caesar victorious. We allow fear into our homes, our heads, our hearts. We build whole industries around it. – Linton Weeks

The face of danger is more likely to appear in a family snapshot than in a mug shot on a sex offender registry. The kidnapping or sexual abuse of a child by a stranger is very rare. According to a report from the U.S. Dept. of Justice, of the sexual offenses committed against children in 2000, 34.2% of the perpetrators were family members and 58.7% were friends of the family (or other adults the children knew well). In the age range for sex-related crime victims of 6 to 11 year olds, only 4.7% of their molesters were strangers and in the age range of 0 to 5 years of age, only 3.1% of the perpetrators were strangers.

Out of the first 178 perpetrators who were caught in the Dateline "To Catch a Predator" sting, only 4 were registered sex offenders.

A national hysteria about sex offenders has led to illogical public policy that has not been proven to make children safer, said Nancy Sabin, executive director of the Jacob Wetterling Foundation, a victim advocacy organization in Minnesota.

"There's an awful lot of legislators going for the feel-good, quick fixes to enhance their own careers and reputation," Sabin said. "We need to marry policy with science-based tools.

"Stop having lay people figure out goofy things that don't work, like green license plates, pink license plates, e-mail registries, chemical castration and residency restrictions."

Instead of enacting public policy such as residency restrictions, more resources should be spent on preventing sex crimes in which the victim and perpetrator know each other, which make up the majority of such crimes, Sabin said. (The Arizona Republic, March 16, 2007)

[Albany, NY Police Chief] Heider said the abuse [by a local coach] underscores a parental anxiety over to whom they entrust their children, as well as the pitfalls of focusing only on obvious dangers like the current controversy over laws governing where documented sex offenders are allowed to live.

"People are arguing about the sex offender registry. This guy's not on any registry," Heider said. "The majority of the people we arrest are not on the registry. I'm not saying the registry is bad ... but we put way too much weight on the ones we know and we forget about the guys like this that we don't know." (Times Union, August 28, 2007)

The vast majority of sex crimes are committed by someone who is not on the Sex Offender Registry. During 2005-2006, approximately 94% of the persons arrested for sexual offenses in New York State had no prior sex convictions. As a result, these people would not have been on the Sex Offender Registry (New York Sex Offender Management Grant, 2007).

I want to express plainly, in advance, that I do *not* believe that serious criminal offenders of this kind, or any other, should not have appropriate consequences and restrictions placed on them or that the public should not be notified when it is appropriate to do so. However, if we are to believe even half of the research that has been conducted across this nation in this field, then we can only conclude that, in general, sex offender registration and website programs have little or no discernible effect on recidivism or public safety. The most prevalent threat to the public comes from those who have not yet offended or have not yet been identified and caught. - Ned Zylinski (Report of Iowa Sex Offender Research Council to the Iowa General Assembly, Appendix 2, January, 2009)

Ours is a culture obsessed with youth...

Just last week, the most e-mailed and viewed image in the news section of was that of the bikini-clad Louisiana contestant in the Miss Teen USA beauty pageant, Logan Brook Travis, a 15-year-old girl.

Is it any wonder some adults develop unhealthy sexual proclivities toward children?...

Those who do more than simply parrot our societal obsession with youth and actually act on their desires are permanently branded sex offenders by the courts. They are the new pariahs of our culture, forbidden to live freely amongst us...

As a mother, I am disgusted and deeply disturbed by any form of child abuse and will do everything within my power to protect my children from predators. But I cannot ignore the conflicting messages with which our culture is bombarded regarding the connection between sexual desire and youthfulness.

Our youth-obsessed culture created and supports these undesirable desires. To permanently demonize those who simply parrot that which they see constantly in the media, or to permanently imprison those who are unable to restrain themselves from acting on the desires and ideals actively espoused by our culture is, in my opinion, nothing short of hypocritical. ---Nicole Black (The Daily Record, August 21, 2007)

I think we have to get better at identifying the high-risk offender. Sexual offenders are not all the same, just as everyone convicted of drunken driving is not an alcoholic. --Dr. Jill S. Levenson

From an October 18, 2007 CNN report on a trailer park in Florida that welcomes sex offenders:

Some experts agree that it is hope as much as fear that keeps offenders from relapsing.

"You have to offer people hope if you expect them to change," said psychologist Don Sweeney, who works with the residents here. "If society only wants to tear them down and doesn't show them any way back, then all hope is lost in their minds, and they are more likely to relapse."

Sex offenders are normal human beings. They frequently have great humanity in other parts of their lives. This can be very disorientating. It would be so much easier if sex offenders were somehow not human, were not like the rest of us, were simply monsters. But they are not.

They are one of us. And they are our responsibility.

                                     ---Fiona Neary, Executive Director, Rape Crisis Network Ireland

These findings do not suggest that the Internet is more dangerous than other environments that children and adolescents frequent…  

Some recent Internet safety debates have dwelt on restricting online access for registered sex offenders. The current study found that only 4% of online predators arrested for crimes against youth victims were registered sex offenders, as were 2% of those arrested for soliciting undercover investigators. Thus, it is important for the public and officials to know that policies targeted at registered sex offenders are aimed at a very small part of the problem. Internet safety needs to be designed with the assumption that most online predators are not registered offenders and have no prior record. Thus, other mechanisms for deterring this behavior need to be designed.   - TRENDS IN ARRESTS OF “ONLINE PREDATORS,” Janis Wolak, et al., Crimes Against Children Research Center, University of New Hampshire.

"There are still zero cases reported of any registered sex offender who was booted off MySpace being prosecuted for illegal contact occurring on MySpace," said Hemanshu Nigam, chief security officer for MySpace parent company News Corp. - CNET News

...American policy responses to prevent or address sexual offending, particularly those enacted within the last twenty years, have largely failed... The central thesis of this work is that these policies have failed by choice. Policymakers choose to focus on the most heinous sex offenders while ignoring the most common sexual threats that people face. Policymakers are disproportionately influenced by isolated, high-profile cases of sexual assault committed by strangers, to the neglect of the everyday sexual violence committed by known and familiar family, friends, and acquaintances. This choice gives lawmakers simple and clear political benefits but overall has made the public less safe.

              --Sex Offender Laws: Failed Policies, New Directions, Dr. Richard Wright (Editor), pp. 3-4.


All the attention given to registered sex offenders gives a distorted perception of the more likely perpetrators of sex crimes against children. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, 93% of children who are victims of sexual abuse are victimized by family members or acquaintances. 94% of those arrested for the sexual molestation of children in New York State are first time offenders who are not listed on any registry. To put it another way, if a child has been the victim of sexual abuse, the odds are 4 in 1,000 that the child was victimized by a stranger who is a registered sex offender. The odds are far greater, 874 in 1,000, that the child was victimized by a family member or acquaintance who is not listed on the sex offender registry. The primary effect of sex offender registries is to give the public a false sense of security or, conversely, to raise hysteria.


My Hero: Your Sex Offender

MSNBC Documentary, "The Predator Next Door" -
A story of one New York sex offender who rebuilt his life only to see it destroyed again

Are Sex Offender Phone Apps Worth Anything? (WHEC video)

 Binghamton Time Warner Cable Station - Sex Offender Community Update TV Show
David Hess participates in a debate on sex offender policy
Video:   Part 1  -  Part 2

Video and Text: Pastor Questions Sex Offender Halloween Surveillance
David Hess interviewed by WHAM 13 TV in Rochester, NY



For more information and resources:

Stop It Now - Together We Can Prevent the Sexual Abuse of Children

Universal Precautions: A Common Sense Approach to Preventing Abuse

NY Sex Offender Registration Act

NY Sex Offender  Management and Treatment Act

"Myths and Facts" - NY Office of Sex Offender Management

NY Sex Offender Risk Assessment Guidelines and Commentary

Human Rights Watch report: No Easy Answers; Sex Offender Laws in the US

USA FAIR - Families Advocating an Intelligent Registry

I Love a Sex Offender - a blog

Sex Crimes - a legal blog

Sex Offender Research by a Voice of Reason

SOSEN - Sex Offender Solutions and Education Network

Bills concerning sex offenders that are currently under consideration by the New York State Legislature  

Current news stories concerning sex offenders in New York State 

U.S. Department of Justice Report - Recidivism of Sex Offenders Released from Prison in 1994

Sex Offender Registration and Notification: Research Finds Limited Effects in New Jersey

Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act of 2006

New York chooses not to comply with the Adam Walsh Act

CAUTIONclick - Citizens Against Unfair Treatment of Internet Offenses Nationwide

Living as a spouse of an inmate

"Sex Offender Residency Restrictions" by Jill S. Levenson, Ph. D.

The Kidnapping Hysteria by John Stossel

 New York Map Showing Counties with Sex Offender Residency Laws


C. David Hess
Representative of SOhopeful of New York

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