Critics say Pennsylvania’s new Megan’s Law is too tough

    Pennsylvania’s new tougher Megan’s Law requires convicted sex offenders to stay on the public registry longer. It also means more offenders will have to register. A national advocacy group plans to challenge the law in court.

    Pennsylvania’s Megan’s Law now complies with tougher federal legislation called the Adam Walsh Act. Offenders must stay registered for longer periods of time — a minimum of 15 years instead of the previous 10. They have to provide more detailed information, and more serious offenders stay registered for life.

    Pennsylvania State Trooper Adam Reed says the new requirements standardize reporting among states — and will help police catch predators.

    “Information can be shared faster, simply because it’s the same information being collected everywhere,” he said, adding that the new regulations close certain loopholes that allowed offenders to fall through the cracks when moving from one state to another.

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    The new legislation also broadens the range of crimes that must be reported; the list now includes offenses such as corruption of minors and indecent assault.

    The national group Reform Sex Offender Laws plans to file suit against these changes. The registry lumps together people who have committed vastly different crimes and puts them on what amounts to lifelong parole, says Larry Neely, head of the group’s legal department.

    “It destroys people’s lives who have tried to turn their lives around, when they change these laws and make these people visible to the public regardless of what they have actually been convicted of,” Neely said.

    Some experts worry the tougher requirements will make it more difficult for convicted sex offenders to earn a living, and receive needed treatment. Recidivism among sex offenders is generally around 15 percent; with treatment, it falls below 10 percent, according to Ted Glackman, director of Philadelphia’s Joseph J. Peters Institute, which provides treatment for sex offenders.

    Maintaining the stricter registry, he says, will divert resources from treatment.

    “There is no evidence that these regulations give us a benefit, there is evidence that treatment does give us a benefit,” he said. “And we’re putting our financial resources as a state into unproven methods to monitor individuals, rather than more proven methods of treatment.”

    Glackman says the vast majority of offenders are not registered and some of the worst offenders manage to commit crimes again, despite being on the list.

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