The scariest sights I’ve seen so far this trick-or-treat season are the stern faces and contorted postures of politicians, masquerading as super-heroes in the fight to protect our children against a horde of halloween sex offenders. As the New York Times described earlier this week (“Sex Offenders See New Limits for Halloween,” Oct. 26, 2005):
“All across the country this year, local and state authorities are placing registered offenders under one-night curfews or other restrictions out of fear that in only a few days, costumed children asking for candy will be arriving on their doorsteps.”
Examples: “In Westchester County [NY], high-risk sex offenders on probation will be required to attend a four-hour educational program on Halloween night. In New Jersey, state officials are instructing paroled sex criminals not to answer their doors if trick-or-treaters come knocking. And in counties throughout Texas, parolees with child contact restrictions are being told to stay away from Halloween activities, even family gatherings.”
Such restrictions are also being imposed and — just a few days before elections — heavily publicized in Wisconsin (article), Kansas (article), Delaware (article), and Minnesota (article) . It’s such a sexy issue for politicians this year, that Michigan State Rep. Fran Amos, R-Waterford, rushed to submit House Bill 5377 on Thursday, October 27. The bill would prevent sex offenders from handing out Halloween candy or participating in any other Halloween activities. Of course, it’s too late to “help” for Halloween 2005. (see this and that)
follow-up (October 18, 2010): See the informative weblog piece by David Hess, The New Urban Myth—The Danger of Registered Sex Offenders at Halloween.
i only tell the priest
… by ed markowski
There must be a good reason for all this extra protection at Halloween, right? In the NYT article, “Edward Bray, the acting deputy executive director of the NJ State Parole Board, said the plan was necessary.” Bray brayed:
“The State Parole Board has been trying in the last year to be more proactive. . . . And Halloween seemed like a time that was ripe for so many potential abuses and risks to children.”
In “Megan’s Law vs. Halloween” (Oct. 26, 2005), Prawfsblawg‘s Dave Hoffman asks cogently “if the state had empirical evidence of a higher-than-average rate of illegal behavior on Halloween?” Not according to the NYT article, which stated: “In effectively detaining sex offenders on Halloween, most officials say they are not responding to any attacks known to have occurred on past holidays.” For those who don’t trust the Gray Lady:
An editorial from Indiana notes today that: “there are no known attacks of trick-or-treating children on past Halloweens.” (KPC Media Group, “Offender series shows need for open eyes, Oct., 30, 2005). Also, per CBS3.com, the Spokeswoman for the Delaware Department of Corrections “says no Halloween incidents involving sex offenders and trick-or-treaters have been reported in Delaware.”
Across the border in Canada, the Halloween (non)experience sounds very similar (TriCityNews [Victoria], “No Halloween for sex offenders,” Oct. 30, 2005):
“Dave Keating, Vancouver Island area director for Corrections Canada . . said he has never heard of a sex offender on federal or provincial parole who has preyed on trick-or-treaters.”
So far, I seem to be the only weblawger who believes there’s something unsavory, in this rush (just in time for the elections) to “do something” and “be proactive” to “protect our children” from this year’s favorite political whipping boy, the sex offender
[For an example from New York State, see North Country Gazette, "Pataki Advocates Enforcing Halloween Curfew on Sex Offenders," Oct. 28, 2005]
the low, slow laughter
of a demon
…………………….. John Stevenson from Some of the Silence
Trenton lawyer John S. Furlong, while admitting that New Jersey has the right to impose the Halloween restrictions on his clients, put the problem very well ((AP/msnbc, “NJ issues curfew for Offenders,” Oct. 26, 2005):
“My own view is that it’s unfair, expensive and inane. In other words, it’s just stupid. Nobody is going to be safer. Nobody is going to be less at risk. No purpose is served other than the arbitrary abuse of power by people who can.” He added: “The best monitors in the world for children are their parents. You want to keep your kids safe? Go trick or treating with them.”
Today’s editorial from Indiana’s KPC newspapers also makes several very important points:
“Because abuse of our children tears at our hearts, it is tempting for people to go over-board.”
“For example, in many states local and state authorities are placing registered offenders under Halloween night curfews or other restrictions. However, there are no known attacks of trick-or-treating children on past Halloweens. “Rather than one night of over-reaction, we encourage alertness every day and night of the year. One-fifth of the nation’s 500,000 sex offenders are “missing” — meaning they have failed to register and no one knows where they are. That underlines the importance of teaching children not to talk to strangers.
“On the other hand, since most sex offenders are known to their victims – and possibly could be the new neighbor who moved in next door, and who now invites youngsters over to play in his pool or watch TV — it’s even more important to keep track of where your children are and what they’re doing.”
In addition to pointing out that “The vast majority of sex offenders remain at large, undiscovered and unmonitored,” victim’s advocate Douglas Larsen sums up his strong reaction to these “all show/no go” laws:
“Why am I being so negative? Because these kinds of laws generate a lot of publicity, and tend to lull the public into thinking that something worthwhile is being accomplished. But funding for Child Abuse Prevention efforts remains criminally low; Child Abuse Prevention agencies remain
horribly understaffed; education and training of children remains unacceptably low, and monitoring and supervision of sex offenders is still dangerously inadequate because budget cuts have completely over-stretched the capabilities of the officers that remain. A high-profile law like this Halloween restriction gives elected officials a way to seem like they’re tough on sex offenders, without having to do anything that would cost any money or make a significant difference in the problem.”
Prof. Hoffman has pointed out that “there are costs (perhaps ones we can justify) to rules like this,” relating the story of a low-level risk offender in NJ, who will not be able to take his own children out trick-or-treating. That is just one example of how over-reaching in restrictions actually makes it harder for sex offenders to make their way back into normal community and family life.
goblins at the door
in the darkness behind them
a cigarette flares
…. by John Stevenson from Some of the Silence
Similarly, the spokesperson for the Kansas Department of Corrections pointed out this week, talking about the State’s offender registry website, that neighbors’ fears about someone living on their block could be overblown. That’s because many sex offenders’ crimes don’t involve children, and some people on the list in Kansas are teens convicted of having sex with an underage girlfriend. (Lawrence Journal-World, “Experts: Vast majority of sexual abuse close to home,” Oct. 30, 2005)
With most States urging parents to check websites, courthouses and police stations for information on sex offenders living in their neighborhoods, I think there is plenty of opportunity for citizens — perhaps especially young males — to take the “problem” into their own hands and punish or harass sex offenders on Halloween. These overblown promotional campaigns might, then, be the cause of some ugly vigilantism.
There also will be plenty of financial costs involved — with probation staffs working all night in many States, attempting to catch cheaters and deter violations, and with police officers asked to help with enforcement. Of course, while no one has examples of genuine sex offenses against children on Halloween, we all know that there are plenty of actual crimes committed that night — and more teen deaths caused by alcohol than during prom season. Cruising around looking for offenders answering their doors or displaying Halloween decorations will only make the job of local police even more difficult that night.
Asked about the law proposed just three days ago in Michigan, Monroe County Sheriff Tilman Crutchfield — showing that opposing the bill is politically-sensitive –said he supports such a proposal, but added that officers would have to catch people in the act. (MonroeCountyNews, “Halloween bill hard to enforce, police say,” Oct. 28, 2005)” Sheriff Crutchfield explains:
“It is a good idea, but it would be difficult to enforce . . . . It would be very difficult to prove unless that person was standing at the door handing out candy.”
“For it to work, he said, police officers would have to be provided a list of sex offenders. Officers then would have to drive around checking addresses and then catch the person in the act. Because deputies have a limited amount of available time, especially on Halloween, personnel issue would come into play.
“And there is only a two-hour time frame for the entire county. I don’t think it’s a bad law; it would just be difficult to enforce.”
This is not, in my estimation, a close call. The Halloween Sex Bogeyman laws and restrictions have far too many costs, are far too likely to create a false sense of security among parents, and seem certain to have no real effects, other than giving grandstanding politicians a boost in the polls. I hope my fellow weblawgers will voice their opinions, and that parents will keep a close eye on their young children and a skeptical ear when dealing with their teenagers and their politicians this Halloween season.
For some fun and safety education, click for the NYS Troopers Halloween Safety Coloring Book.
update (11 PM, Oct. 30): Mike Cernovich, wearing his Blawg Review that, pointed me toward Will Baude’s post, “Sex Offenders and Statutory Authority,” which raises legislative delegation issues with regard to the added parole restrictions.
update (Oct. 31, 2005): There has apparently been at least one major Halloween crime involving a sexual predator. Walter Olson reminded me this morning of the infamous Gerald Turner, dubbed the Halloween Killer, after the 1973 rape-murder of 9-year-old Lisa Ann French, who disappeared while trick-or-treating in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin. The terrible incident has led to much experimentation with sexual predator laws. Walter covered Turner at Overlawyered.com in 1999, when he won a settlement with Waste Management, Inc. after the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development found evidence that Turner had been discriminated against unlawfully when it refused to hire him for a job at a recycling center. [see JSonline, Sept, 21, 1999]
The Halloween Killer’s case gives us two important reminders for Halloween safety: (1) his victim, although only 9 years old, was trick-or-treating alone, and went to the home of a stranger; and (2) Turner had no prior record and thus would not have been subjected to the Halloween restrictions being applied to those on parole. Again, then, parents must not be lulled into a false sense of security by the much-publicized efforts tonight against sex offenders.
Also of interest, concerning Turner:
Joel McNally at Shepherd Express noted in 1998 that Turner had for 5 years after his release from his prison sentence, “lived and worked peacefully in Milwaukee. He didn’t cause any more trouble. But a lot of so-called law-abiding citizens did. They were the ones who vandalized Turner’s home and created a public uproar that caused him to lose his job. Political leaders and judges were the ones who spewed hatred and made a mockery of equal protection under the law.”
According to this article, Turner became part of an ugly campaign for a Wisconsin State Senate Seat in 2000, between Democart Mark Meyer and Republican Dan Kapanke. An “advocacy group” named Americans for Job Security, an ad hoc entity that spoke largely for health insurance groups in the state. An ad attacked Meyer, saying he would let felons – like Gerald Turner, the Halloween killer — apply for any job upon their release. Meyer won the election.
As of April 2004, Turner was back in prison, with his parole revoked for having pornographic pictures on a computer hard drive at he halfway house where he resided. (WKOW news)
update (October 9, 2008): See our post “more scary Halloween laws against sex offenders.” It discusses a lawsuit by the ACLU against a new Missouri law requiring sex offenders to stay inside, have no outdoor lights, and post a “No Candy or Treats at this Residence” sign on Halloween.
the government issues
a report on the war
… by ed markowski
two pirates smooch
on the overpass –
the Pumpkin Patrol rousts them
……… by dagosan