Megan's Law: Citizen responses to sex offender notification laws

Vickie L Montgomery, Tennessee State University


This research explores the relationship between how Washington State citizens respond to sex offender notification policies based on their level of fear of crime and public safety. In 1990 Washington became the first state to release information to the public concerning certain (considered high risk) convicted sex offenders. Then in 1996 the federal government required all states to register sex offenders and to release relevant information deemed necessary to protect the public. To date, few empirical studies have been undertaken concerning the implementation of Megan's Law. However, numerous descriptive studies exists as well as reviews concerning the various interpretations of notification laws among states and the constitutionality of the law itself. It is not the intent of this study to evaluate whether notification laws are good or effective social policy. Instead, the purpose of this study is to look at how a person's level of fear and safety leads to their perceptions about or reaction to community notification laws. This study is based on a 1997 telephone survey by Washington State University for Washington State Institute for Public Policy which included 290 complete responses. Since fear and safety are multidimensional concepts, a Public Safety Index (based on 18 individual-level variables) was created specifically for this study. An intervening variable concerning whether or not a respondent had knowledge if a convicted sex offender resided in their community was also incorporated into the study. And finally, two separate hypothesis were used to determine whether fear and safety levels restricted a respondent's lifestyle as a result of community notification and whether fear and safety levels affected a respondent's level of safety within the community as a result of notification. Three separate survey questions were used for each hypothesis. Based on cross tabulations, the results were mixed. While the null hypothesis was rejected for one question under each hypothesis, four additional questions did not provide significant results (p ≤ .05). And finally, the study provides several areas for additional research.

Subject Area

Public administration|Criminology|Law

Recommended Citation

Vickie L Montgomery, "Megan's Law: Citizen responses to sex offender notification laws" (2001). ETD Collection for Tennessee State University. Paper AAI3061758.