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Event Explores Rationale, Results of Sex-Offender Registries

September 22, 2011

The law school on Sept. 21 hosted “Megan’s Law and Beyond,” a lively discussion of the aims and outcomes of sex-offender registration laws.

Moderated by Barry Zakireh, director of the Joseph J. Peters Institute of Adult Outpatient Services, the panel featured: 

  • Attorney Karl Baker of the Defender Association of Philadelphia 
  • Julia Hall, a sociology professor and coordinator of the Criminal Justice Program at Drexel University 
  • Christopher McFillin, supervisor of the Sex Offender Unit of the Philadelphia Adult Probation and Parole Department 
  • Diane Moyer, legal director of the Pennsylvania Coalition
    Against Rape

Zakireh noted that Megan’s Law and the Adam Walsh Act were designed to protect communities from sexual predators by creating registries for monitoring and tracking convicted offenders.

Moyer said Megan’s Law has been successful in raising public awareness of the presence of sexual predators in the community.

But Hall said Megan’s Law created “a false sense of security,” since most sex offenses are never reported, leaving countless predators excluded from scrutiny.

Registration requirements reflect “myths” that sex offenders have a higher rate of recidivism than other criminals, Baker said, citing a string of studies that found the opposite.

McFillin said that while convicted sex offenders are not necessarily re-arrested, many watch child pornography or engage in other behaviors that heighten the risk they will commit more crimes.

Under the federal Adam Walsh Act, the categories of offenders required to register will expand to include juveniles and adults who were juveniles at the time of their crimes.

All of the panelists agreed that requiring juveniles to register as sex offenders will achieve little while incurring significant costs.

The event was sponsored by the Pennsylvania Prison Society, the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania, the Drexel University College of Arts and Sciences, the Philadelphia Bar Association’s Civil Rights Committee, the Earle Mack School of Law and law school chapters of the American Constitution Society, the Criminal Law Society and the National Lawyers Guild.

>>To view video of the panel discussion, click here.