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October 16, 2008

Maryland Halloween Sign Targets Sex Offenders

Filed under: viewpoint — Tags: , — David Giacalone @ 5:06 pm

. . . for more, see our prior posts: “Halloween tricks: pols vs. sex offenders” (Oct. 30, 2005); “hauntingly familiar” (Oct. 24, 2007); “more scary Halloween laws against sex offenders” (Oct. 9, 2008).  And see, the informative weblog piece by David Hess, The New Urban Myth—The Danger of Registered Sex Offenders at Halloween (October 18, 2010).

…  Md. Sex Offender Halloween Sign

Last week, we told you again about the spread of laws across the nation restricting the conduct of Sex Offenders on Halloween.  One particularly odious and inane rule, from our perspective, is the requirement in states like Missouri and Maryland that sex offenders post a sign at their homes declaring there is no candy at the residence.  The ACLU is challenging Missouri’s law.  After seeing yesterday’s Washington Times, we hope a challenge will be waged in Maryland, too.

Last year, sex offenders in Maryland were given a simple sign to hang on their doors that read: “No Candy.”  That was bad enough, but things have escalated this year.

.. A New Scarlet Letter: The article “Pumpkin symbol marks sex offenders’ homes” (Washington Times, by Tom LoBianco, October 15, 2008), shows the sign that sex offenders must display at their homes in Maryland this Halloween (and we have it at the top of this post).  According to the Times, the bright orange pumpkin is the symbol sex offenders “are required to post on their doors with a warning, in capital letters, to trick-or-treaters: ‘No candy at this residence’.”   In addition to posting the sign, the offenders must stay at home, turn off outside lights and not answer the door.  Some states prohibit sex offenders from decorating the outside of their homes.  But, Maryland is mandating this colorful and “attractive” Halloween decoration.

update (October 31, 2008): Realizing that a sign with a big orange pumpkin on it might actually attract children to a house, Maryland parole agents sent out a pumpkin-less version of the sign this week to sex offenders, merely saying “No Candy at this Residence”.   Strangely, SO’s apparently have the option to use the pumpkin sign.  Parole officials deny they were affected by a Saturday Night Live skit poking fun at their sign (with Seth Myers saying “They are also being required to take down the signs that read, ‘Knock if you can keep a special secret.’”).  See: “Halloween & the Law, Part Deux: Targeting Sexual Offenders
(Wall Street Journal, October 30, 2008); and “Maryland Sex Offenders Under Close Watch on Halloween”  wamu.org, Oct. 31, 2008)

The signs were mailed out to Maryland sex offenders, with a letter dated October 1st, from the state’s Division of Parole and Probation.  In it, interim director Patrick McGee has this Orwellian message:

“Halloween provides a rare opportunity for you to demonstrate to your neighbors that you are making a sincere effort to change the direction of your life.”

As we’ve mentioned before, there is no record in the United States (nor in Canada) of any registered sex offender abusing a trick-or-treater on Halloween.  The infamous Fond du Lac Halloween Murderer case took place in 1973, when an unaccompanied 9-year-old girl was attacked by a man who had never been convicted of a prior sex crime. (see our posts “halloween tricks: pols vs. sex offenders” and “hauntingly familiar”).

The Washington Times articles also reports that:

  • “Sex offenders In Maryland who do not post the signs and stay home will be taken to court and charged with a violation of parole. However, the new state initiative is not a law.”
  • Wonda Adams, a supervisor at the Parole and Probation Division and coordinator of the Halloween watch program says, “Our goal is public safety, and in keeping with that we need to make sure that the individuals under our supervision are provided with the enhanced supervision that we’re committed to.”
  • In addition, “The state also this year is distributing pamphlets statewide to warn families and trick-or-treaters to stay away from homes with the pumpkin signs, Mrs. Adams said.”
  • One parole agent — who clearly needs a better understanding of the role of the Division and goals of parole –  “has called the new sign a ‘publicity stunt’ and said it should clearly state that a violent sex offender lives at the house.” update (October 17, 2008):  Last night, Jay Leno joked about the Maryland Halloween sign during his monologue, saying it should state “Sex Offender Lives Here.”  It got a laugh, but I’d like to think Jay would reconsider that position in his real life, if he gave the whole notion a bit of thought.

At the website of the Maryland Department of Public Safety’s Division of Parole and Probation, I could find no mention at all of the Halloween parole restrictions, nor of the pamphlet for families.  It is especially appalling that the Division has acted on its own — with no statutory mandate — to initiate a program that is likely to target sex offender homes, on Halloween and thereafter, for pranks, mischief, and possibly violence.  The rule will make it harder, not easier, for the sex offender to “change the direction” of his or her life, and rejoin society, and will surely make life tougher for any family members who live with the sex offender.

Rather than creating a new Scarlet Letter to focus negative attention on sex offenders trying to straighten out their lives, the good public servants in our parole departments and state legislatures should perhaps consider the Biblical story of the Mark of Cain.  As told in the Bible, Cain was the firstborn son of Adam and Eve, and had slain his brother Abel — a serious crime that deserved serious punishment.  However (per Wikipedia):

When Cain complained that the curse was too strong, and that anyone who found him would kill him, God responded, “Not so; if anyone kills Cain, he will suffer vengeance seven times over”, and God “set a mark upon Cain, lest any finding him should kill him” (Gen. 4:15).

Never soft on crime, the Old Testament God would not diminish Cain’s punishment, but made it clear that revenge or vigilantism by others against Cain was not acceptable.  Here’s how Ray C. Stedman explained the mark that the Bible says God put on Cain:

“[T]he mark of Cain is not a mark of shame, as we usually interpret it. It is not a mark to brand him in the eyes of others as a terrible murderer, to be shunned and treated as a pariah. It is rather, a mark of grace, by which God is saying, ‘This man is still my property. Hands off!’ Thus the heart of God is always ready to show mercy.”

Let’s hope that a bit of mercy and restraint will replace the hypocrisy and hysteria that have fueled Halloween restrictions on sex offenders.  Maybe saner heads will reject the unwise, expensive and often counter-productive rules and laws — including residence restrictions — that have been promoted by politicians and civil servants who should know better.

p.s. If I still lived in Maryland (having resided in Bethesda for a few years prior to moving to Schenectady), I’d be tempted to make lots of copies of the Sex Offender No Candy sign, and to urge others who are not sex offenders to use them, too.

9 Comments

  1. Thank you for your post. Not only is this completely ridiculous, it is extremely unfair to family members of the offender to have a scarlet letter placed on their door. It’s so barbaric.

    Comment by Melissa — October 16, 2008 @ 11:12 pm

  2. i think it’s crazy, to begin with, to allow kids out at night unaccompanied.

    this restriction just doesn’t seem well thought out. might have been better to just convince parents to have their kids go out with an adult accompanying.

    Comment by kouji haiku — October 17, 2008 @ 9:57 am

  3. Trying to make sense of these rules will only drive us crazy, Kouji. Halloween is the night that children — especially the most vulnerable ones — are most likely to be accompanied by an adult, or at least in a group.

    To understand the restriction we can’t look to logic, but instead need to comprehend the human capacity for revenge, feeling superior, and scapegoating, and the benefits of fear-mongering to politicians.

    Comment by David Giacalone — October 17, 2008 @ 10:52 am

  4. Thank you for a thoughtful article.
    The points are well made. I hope some day we will rethink and reform our criminal punishment system. Scapegoating and fear-mongering is a perfect description of sex offender laws.

    Comment by Barb — October 17, 2008 @ 12:55 pm

  5. Thank you for this well written article.

    When dealing with the thought of an RSO living near you it is easy to allow emotions to overrule common sense. There are over 600,000 RSO’s living in the U.S. today, and making them all homeless, jobless, and hopeless is simply creating a time bomb.

    U.S. Department of Justice statistics clearly demonstrate that reoffense rates of convicted sex offenders is LOW – not HIGH as most politicians will tell you when they’re preying on your emotions to tug at your political heartstrings to get your votes. But it is time for we as parents and American citizens who truly care about public safety to wake up and demand that sensible laws be put in place of those that are presently in existence.

    Are you all familiar with Jacob Wetterling and the important work of his mother, Patty Wetterling? Are you aware of HER position on these Draconian Laws we have in place and the impact that they have on the instability of RSO’s living among us?

    While most sit here and pass judgment and cast aspersions on this entire group of over 600,000 U.S. citizens who made mistakes and many of whom finished their “penalty” long ago, we are fast-forwarding the timer on this ticking time bomb with each new restriction and each new requirement that will make it even more impossible for these people to rebuild healthy, and more importantly stable lives. If we TRULY care about the safety of our children we will wake up and stop thinking solely from an emotional standpoint and demand that our politicians eliminate the PUBLIC registry making it only accessible to law enforcement agencies to use as an investigative tool and allow these people to build some sense of normalcy.

    Yes, I am a RSO. I am also a parent and a voting, law-abiding citizen. I never molested a child or anyone else. I never raped anyone. I was never even accused of consensual or unconsensual sex with someone. Now I am forced into a life of loneliness (I would never attempt to force this life on another person – so I don’t even try to have a relationship), joblessness (no employer will hire a former offender now that their company name will be put on a public registry and brand them with this modern-day scarlet letter as well), and hopelessness. Every day I pray that God will take me from this Earth. Every day I pray that those who are situated in similar circumstances as me will have the strength to keep their sanity and not lash out like a caged animal who has been backed into a corner.

    I reach out to this group from a caring heart – even though I know the reaction I will face. I face this reaction every day of my miserable existence.

    Comment by Joe — October 18, 2008 @ 11:54 am

  6. Are prior sex offenders the only threats to children who have been released by their parents to roam around in the night alone? If Maryland were serious about promoting the safety of children, they would notify parents that they would be charged with misdemeanor negligence for any children found without an adult escort. Failure to provide sufficient supervision on Halloween is the real threat to the welfare of children.

    Comment by David — October 18, 2008 @ 11:33 pm

  7. I think that the Halloween initiative is a great opportunity for people to become more aware of their surroundings to protect themselves and their families. It is merely a preventative measure that Parole and Probation is taking to ensure the public’s safety. All it takes is one sex offender to take advantage of anyone during this holiday. Let’s put our minds together and work together to make Maryland and the United State’s a better, safer place to live.

    Comment by Jennifer — October 23, 2008 @ 12:18 pm

  8. Jennifer, Thanks for giving us your perspective. Obviously, I disagree. The most efficient way to prevent sex abuse is to remove every male over 14 from every household with children, since that’s who does most of the sexual abuse. That would be rather un-American, and I think targeting Sex Offenders (and their families) on Halloween is also un-American, based on prejudice rather than facts.

    Comment by David Giacalone — October 23, 2008 @ 12:30 pm

  9. “It is merely a preventative measure that Parole and Probation is taking to ensure the public’s safety.”

    This is in fact not the case. There has not been a case of a haloween offender issue in the past. It’s political and a kneejerk reaction. The reason Parole and Probation is doing this is because if it was made into a law it would be struck down as unconstitutional. The issues are it targets the family and kids of an offender punishing everyone in the household and targets the offender for harrasment, eviction and shame. This targeted attack on the wellbeing can cause depression and hoplessness is even a greater factor in causing an offender to re-offend.

    What do you think life is like when they take away home, family, security, jobs? it truly strips them of any shread of any chance to rehabilitate.

    Comment by Tom — October 31, 2008 @ 12:29 am

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