What Is Megan's Law for Washington?
- Megan Kanka was 7 years old on July 29, 1994, when Jesse Timmendequas, a neighbor who lived across the street from her family in Hamilton Township, New Jersey, lured her into his house with the promise of seeing his new puppy. Timmendequas then raped and strangled Megan. When her family learned that Timmendequas had been convicted of two sex offenses in the past, and spent six years in jail, they lobbied for a new law that would ensure notification of residents before a known sex offender moved into the neighborhood.
- Kanka petition drew much support.signature image by Allyson Ricketts from Fotolia.com
Maureen and Richard Kanka quickly collected more than 400,000 signatures supporting their petition. On the family's website for the Megan Nicole Kanka Foundation, the parents note that the New Jersey State Legislature passed Megan's Law just 89 days later, requiring public notification whenever a convicted sex offender moved into a community. All 50 states, including Washington and the District of Columbia, now have similar laws. President Bill Clinton signed an amendment to the Violent Crime Control Enforcement Act on May 17, 1996 that ordered all state legislatures to pass laws requiring sex offenders to register with local police when released from jail.
- Megan Kanka was still alive and just 3 years old when the Community Protection Act became law in 1990 in Washington State, making it the first state in the country to require public notification when sex offenders were to be released into the community. The amount of information that can be publicly shared under the Washington law is decided case-by-case, taking into account the specifics of a crime and the ongoing risk posed by an offender as well as the community's need to feel safe.
Roots in Tragedy
- Tragedy was a common denominator in the formation of both the Community Protection Act and Megan's Law. Washington enacted its historic law after two high-profile sex crimes involving Washington residents. Ballard resident Diane Ballasiotis was abducted and murdered in 1988 by a psychopath on the run from his work-release program. Seven months later, a 7-year-old Tacoma boy was abducted and sexually mutilated by a sex offender recently released from prison. Spurred on by public outcry, Washington legislators unanimously passed the Community Protection Act in February 1990.
- Do notification laws work? A December 2008 study funded by the U.S. Department of Justice looked into what happened in New Jersey after Megan's Law was passed. The study found that the law had no demonstrable effect on the number of victims of sex offenses, nor did it reduce the number of arrests for such offenses. Sex offenses in the state have been on a downward trend since 1985, but the greatest rate of decline was before the law was passed in 1994.
A 1997 study by the Washington State Institute for Public Policy found a 70 percent drop in recidivism rates among sex felons in the years after the Community Protection Act became law, but couldn't establish a clear link between the two developments.