The California Megan's Law was passed by the state legislature in late August of 1996. In addition to the basic community notification and sex offender registration provisions, the California legislation includes measures to increase public access to information on dangerous individuals. These include a requirement that the department of justice operate a '1-900' telephone number that members of the public can call to inquire as to whether a certain person is a known child molester (California Attorney General's Office, 1998). Sheriffs' offices across the state compile a CD-ROM database containing personal information on, and photographs of, convicted sex offenders. This database can be accessed by citizens by visiting their local sheriff's office, and can be searched by name, ZIP code, or county. Essentially, one would be able to discover the names and addresses of all known sex offenders anywhere in the state. Additionally, the CD-ROM database highlights those offenders considered the most dangerous by marking their files 'high-risk' (California Attorney General's Office, 1998). The Bill amended section 290 of the state penal code to require that sex offenders be registered for life while residing in California.
Megan's Laws have ignited a heated debate over whether the possibility that a convicted sex offender may commit another offence is sufficient to justify the invasion of offenders' privacy. The American Civil Liberties Union (1999)has argued that convicted offenders who have served their sentences should not be subject to the continual punishment entailed by community notification. The ACLU states that notification laws will not prevent sex offenders from committing further crimes, but rather will prevent offender rehabilitation and reintegration. In many instances, the news media have published the identities of sex offenders. Even though the majority of citizens would not use published information such as the name and address of a sex offender to commit acts of vigilante violence, widespread notification does increases the likelihood of harassment and violence being perpetrated against the released offender. Further, community notification can contribute to the loss or strain of the offender's friendships and social supports, while creating difficulties for the released offender in finding and keeping work. These problems can lead to recidivism (Meier, 1995). It is also argued that sexual offenders who have paid their debt to society are punished a second time by public notification. Finally, there is no proof that public notification leads to increased community safety.
Dangerous offender provisions have been in existence in the United Kingdom since the England and Wales Prevention of Crime Act was passed in 1908, which made possible the indeterminate incarceration of repeat offenders. In the first half of the twentieth century, 'dangerous' offenders were those who posed a significant threat to members of society or their private property (Pratt, 1996). Section 2(1)(b) of the English Criminal Justice Act of 1948 provides that "if the court is satisfied that it is expedient for the protection of the public, [the offender] should be detained for a substantial period of time" (cited in Pratt, 1996). No mention was made of the types of offences for which a person could be subjected to an indeterminate sentence and consequently, many property offenders were deemed dangerous by the courts. By the 1960s, the scope of dangerous offender provisions had narrowed to focus primarily on sex offenders.
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