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Halloween restrictions for sex offenders: Are they appropriate?

We're just a day away from Halloween, and it seems that everyone is making preparations. Wisconsin children are putting finishing touches on their costumes, parents are buying candy and law enforcement agencies around the state are preparing to ramp up enforcement on several fronts.

Police around the state will be working to catch vandals and drunk drivers, but they'll also be cracking down on another type of crime without good reason to believe that such crimes are more likely to be committed on Halloween: sex offenses.

A recent news article discusses the restrictions that convicted sex offenders in the Fox Valley will face during trick-or-treating hours on Halloween. According to the article, anyone on probation or parole for a sex offense must stay home on Thursday night with their lights off. They can't display Halloween decorations, give out candy or dress up in costumes.

They aren't even allowed to answer the door - that is, except if police stop by to do a random check to make sure that they are home and abiding by these lockdown restrictions.

On face, these restrictions on may seem to be a reasonable precaution to protect the community at large. But in the spirit of Halloween, allow us to play devil's advocate for a moment.

First of all, it is important to remember that not all convicted sex offenders committed crimes against children. Yet by failing to differentiate when imposing these restrictions, police may be sending the message that everyone convicted of a sex crime targets children and is likely to re-offend.

Second, there is no statistical evidence to show that sex offenders are more likely to commit a crime on Halloween. The author of the article notes that no such assaults have occurred "in recent memory." Prohibiting sex offenders from handing out candy is one thing, but is it really fair to confine someone to their home based on a theoretical concern with little evidence to back it up?

Finally, imposing holiday-related rules on convicted offenders may be sending a damaging message to both the offenders and the community at large. Such rules may not make the community any safer, but they will almost certainly reinforce a culture of fear and an "us vs. them" mentality. Similarly, offenders who have served their time, reformed and want to reintegrate into the community cannot do so if they are always being singled out as someone to be afraid of.

Few Wisconsinites have much sympathy for anyone convicted of a sex offense. But we should all care about fair treatment under the law.

Source: Appleton Post Crescent, "Fox Cities sex offenders under scrutiny on Halloween," Andy Thomson, Oct. 29, 2013

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