Wide disparity in NJ sex offender registries

Some counties post as many as 43% of sex offenders to online registries, others as little as 8%. Individual prosecutor choices partly explain the difference but the large variations are puzzling.

In northern New Jersey, The Record reports, not all sex offenders registries - so-called Megan's Law registries - are created equal. There are wide disparities between the North Jersey counties, the paper finds.

Only one in nine sex offenders living in four of North Jersey's counties ever wind up listed in the Internet registry. That translates into the exclusion of nearly 1,700 sex offenders in Bergen, Passaic, Morris and Hudson who are subject to some type of community notification -- about 88 percent -- based on data from the state's annual Megan's Law implementation report.

The North Jersey counties post far fewer offenders to the online registries than some other counties. In Atlantic County, NJ, 43 percent of all sex offenders end up in the registry. In Cape May County, it's 42 percent.

But in Morris County, the names of only 8 percent of convicted sex offenders end up posted on the Internet. In Passaic County, only 9 percent of the 870 registered sex offenders are included online. Sex offenders from Bergen and Hudson counties are included at an 18 percent and 13 percent rate, respectively.

That's because district attorney's offices in each county make individual decisions about whose information gets posted online. "They are the ones who make the determination on whether the person goes onto the Internet," said judge Lawrence M. Lawson, who oversees Megan's Law judges in all New Jersey counties. But when presented with the data most county officials expressed bemusement.

"I'm not sure what it is, but I don't think it's the office not pushing," said Passaic County Prosecutor James Avigliano.

"We are interested in taking a closer look at this," said John Mulkeen, an assistant prosecutor in Hudson County. "To be honest, I really can't give you an answer why it would be."

"It comes down to how the prosecutors interpret the law and how judges interpret it," said Brian Lynch, the assistant prosecutor in Bergen County responsible for Megan's Law cases.

As officials look at the data on where sex offenders are moving, one surprising trend has appeared. Many are moving to Ocean County, a coastal county in the middle of the state. But some caution against reading too much into such statistics.

"The numbers are never more than a snapshot at that moment," said Jessica Oppenheim, an assistant attorney general and the state's Megan's Law expert. "Everybody is using the same scale, but no two individuals or offenders are the same and no two counties are the same. ... It's important to remember that there are people behind the statistics."