Vanderbilt Law Review

First Page



During a weekend in late July, 1994, Megan Kanka, a seven-year-old girl, was raped and murdered in Hamilton Township, New Jersey.' When neighbors dis- covered that the perpetrator was a man who lived across the street from the little girl, and that this man was a twice-convicted felon who had served six years for sexual assault, their sadness turned to anger. Why, they asked, had they not been told?

The question of what, if anything, to do with sex offenders after they have served their sentences is one of which few are without opinion. It is a complicated and contentious debate. Generally, statistics show a higher rate of recidivism by sex offenders than any other type of criminal All too often, the evening news informs the public of another child, who, like Megan, has been brutally victimized by a sex offender recently released from prison-a prison term he received for committing a similar offense. Angry, frightened parents are insistent on legislative change--change that will prevent such repeat attacks from occurring.

An increasing number of jurisdictions has recognized the specific danger presented by repeat sex offenders by requiring them to register with the county sheriff following their release from prison. To many Americans, however, this is not enough. Many citizens now are demanding that law enforcement officials notify them of the release of sex offenders into their communities."

A legislative model many states are examining is a new "get- tough" approach recently passed in Washington state-the Community Protection Act of 1990 (the 'Washington Act"). The Washington Act requires sex offenders to register with their county sheriff upon completion of jail terms. A more controversial provision of the act authorizes law enforcement officials to release to the public information regarding freed sex offenders, including their names, ad- dresses, and the crimes of which they were convicted.

The passage of the Washington Act, and similar provisions for public notification in Louisiana,, Tennessee, Alaska, and New Jersey' evidence the growing belief among Americans that the best legislative solution to the problem of recidivistic sex offenders is public notification. Communities like Megan Kanka's are urging state legislators to pass public notification provisions. The federal government also has responded to such pressure, requiring states to establish registration programs for sex offenders that may authorize the release of information to the public.