Dec 26, 2009

Megan's Law 2.0

A new Nebraskan law designed to bring Nebraska’s Sexual Offender Registry Act (Megan’s Law) into the Age of the Internet creates new barriers for former sexual offenders seeking to find and maintain jobs. While Nebraska, like all states in the U.S., has some type of Megan's law that restricts former sex offenders' ability to find employment (such as residency restrictions and community notification requirements), this new Nebraskan legislation makes finding and maintaining a job even more difficult. Among other measures, such as requiring parolees to register all of his/her internet identifiers, Legislative Bill 285

    “authorizes the sheriff to conduct a search of any computer or electronic device used by the parolee without notification,

    mandates the registrant to notify the sheriff within one day of any changes in or additions to a person’s list of email addresses and day of any content he posts or pictures he uploads,"


    "forbids any person required to register to use any social networking site, instant or chat room service (including text messaging) that may be used by any individual under eighteen.”

Three ways the law will impact a former offenders job prospects

While the Nebraskan law aims to prevent individuals convicted of sex offenses from using the internet to find victims, its unintended consequences may actually increase recidivism. Researchers agree that employment is a key factor in a former offender’s ability to lead a life free of criminal behavior. Here are three ways the legislation will have an impact on a parolee's employment opportunities:

    - Today, everyone’s job search begins on the internet through sites that will now be prohibited to ex-offenders. The prohibition on accessing “social networking sites” includes many job search engines that offer the ability to create a profile and post resumes. (i.e. or Linked In). The law contains no exception for job-related activities, which is the equivalent of taking the Classified section from a parolee released in the 1960's.

    -The Sheriff will be authorized to search a former offender's work computer or any electronic device he uses on the job. Such a restriction will serve as an additional deterrent to those already scarce employers willing to hire individuals with criminal records.

    -A former offender is unlikely to be able to accept a position that requires him to post content on the internet, communicate via email or chat, or upload photos without violating the one day notification period mandated by the new law. The consequences for violating the one day period is a misdemeanor for the first offense and a felony for the second.

New York law, the internet, and former sex offenders

Last year, New York passed E-Stop, the Electronic Securing and Targeting of Online Predators Act, which makes an effort to address community safety while remaining mindful of the crucial role of employment in recidivism.

The preamble to the law reads: “[P]ersons on parole and probation currently face many barriers to employment and education opportunities as a result of having a criminal record. Studies indicate that access to employment and education greatly reduces the risk of recidivism by ex-offenders . Therefore any measure that restricts an offender’s use of the internet must be tailored to specifically target the types of offenses committed on the internet while not making it impossible for such offenders to successfully reintegrate back into society.”

Additionally, E-Stop

    “requires that sex offenders register all of their Internet accounts and Internet identifiers with the State Division of Criminal Justice Services,

    authorizes the Division of Criminal Justice Services to release state sex offender Internet identifiers to social networking sites and certain other online services, which may be used to pre-screen or remove sex offenders from using the site’s services and notify law enforcement authorities and other government officials of potential violations of law and threats to public safety,"


    "requires, as a condition of probation or parole, mandatory restrictions on a sex offender’s access to the Internet where the offender’s victim was a minor, the Internet was used to commit the offense, or the offender was designated a level 3 (highest level offender.)”

The law also explicitly states that the court “shall not prohibit such sentenced offender from using the internet in connection with education, lawful employment, or search for lawful employment.”

As of last year, 25,000 former sex offenders were subject to E-stop.