Feature

Should Halloween be off-limits for sex offenders?

A California county tells people convicted of molesting children not to put up decorations or give out candy. Is that unfair or a smart precaution?

With Halloween fast approaching, leaders in Tulare County, Calif., have passed a law barring anyone convicted of sexual crimes against children from decorating their homes and passing out candy to trick-or-treaters. County supervisors called it a simple safety precaution, but critics warned that courts might see the rule as a violation of the sex offenders' First Amendment rights. Is this an easy way to make a child-oriented holiday safer, or is the local government overstepping its authority by saying who can and can't celebrate Halloween?

They mean well, but the ban is wrong: "The impulse is certainly understandable," says Tracy Clark-Flory at Salon. Crossing sex offenders' homes off the "trick-or-treating route" will ease parents' minds. But these people "have served their time." It doesn't seem entirely "fair" — or even legal — for the local government to single them out like this.
"No Halloween for sex offenders"

Protecting kids is priority No. 1: The county supervisors are perfectly aware of the objections, says J. Brown at California City News. They obviously feel that keeping children safe is their first concern and that this is "an important preventive step." Besides, it is no big imposition — all sex offenders have to do is turn off their outside lights on Halloween night and ignore the doorbell if trick-or-treaters come calling.
"Supervisors approve ban"

This is one Halloween fear that has been exaggerated: "We do need to be protected from sex offenders," says Tulare County Public Defender Michael Sheltzer, as quoted in the Porterville, CA, Recorder. But the number of sex crimes against children reported locally on Halloween is "zero." The ban "addresses the fear of crime rather than the actual risk of crime," so at best, all parents will get is a "sense of false security."
"County forbids sex offenders from giving candy to kids on Halloween"

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