As people stock up on Halloween candy, some cities and states are taking special measures to make sure sex offenders don’t answer when little ghouls and goblins come knocking on their doors.
In several states, including Georgia and California, certain sex offenders on probation are prohibited from having contact with children under the age of 18. With that in mind, law enforcement agencies take precautions on Halloween to ensure that sex offenders don’t go near trick-or-treaters.
“I don’t let my kids roam around alone on Halloween for a lot of reasons,” said Abony Wilkins of Indianapolis. “It makes me feel a little better knowing that sex offenders are under surveillance that day.” Once you have robbed a child of his innocence, I have no concern for your feelings as an individual.’
Here’s what some states and jurisdictions are doing.
California sends parole agents to conduct home checks on sex offenders who are not allowed to have contact with children. During the checks, offenders can only open their doors to law enforcement patrolling their neighborhood to make sure they aren’t participating in Halloween activities, said Tessa Outhyse, spokeswoman for the state Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.
In Georgia, sex offenders are subject to Department of Community Supervision conditions that allow authorities to visit their homes during Halloween. Officers make sure the criminals don’t decorate their homes, leave lights on or open doors for crooks, said Brian Tukes, the agency’s director of external affairs.
Other states, including Tennessee and Missouri, also conduct unannounced Halloween home checks for sex offenders.
Many sex offenders do not prey on children, and there is no evidence that offenders target children more on Halloween than on other days.
Critics have called some such measures invasive and intimidation tactics, with data showing that the vast majority of child sex crimes are committed by family members or acquaintances — not strangers. More than 90% of child victims know their perpetrator, according to statistics cited by the California Department of Justice.
But law enforcement authorities are erring on the side of caution.
California requires sex offenders to remain under supervision on Halloween night between 5 p.m. and 5 a.m., Outhyse said.
During those hours, they are not allowed to stand up at the door for trick-or-treating, display decorations that would attract children or have lights on, she said.
In Missouri, some registered sex offenders must stay indoors on Halloween night — unless they have to leave for work or for a medical emergency.
In Newton County, Georgia, the sheriff’s office closes every year on Halloween night. Authorities gather sex offenders in a controlled environment, such as a sheriff’s office, during the evening hours while children are out trick-or-treating.
During the closing, sex offenders will hear from a judge, parole officers and other guest speakers.
Caitlin Jett, spokeswoman for the Newton County Sheriff’s Office, declined to say whether more closures are planned for this year.
“The exact details of our operation are not being released to the public,” Jett told CNN.
In the past, authorities in some cities in South Carolina and Virginia have also rounded up sex offenders at the sheriff’s office during trick-or-treating, a step they say is necessary to keep children safe.
But sex offenders backed off. In 2020, they sued a western North Carolina county that required them to assemble at a National Guard armory on Halloween night because the mandatory meeting violated their constitutional rights.
In Missouri, some sex offenders are required to post a “no candy or treats at this residence” sign.
In Jacksonville, Florida, sex offenders are required by law to post a sign outside their home saying, “No sweets or treats here,” to warn of scammers.
But such signs faced legal challenges.
Several sex offenders sued the city of Jacksonville this year, calling the sign unconstitutional. The city said it would not enforce the law while the dispute is pending.
In Georgia, a group of registered sex offenders filed a federal lawsuit against the Butts County Sheriff’s Office in 2019 over similar signs, accusing authorities of trespassing on their private property to post them. Offenders reported that these symptoms caused them anxiety and humiliation. Federal judge rules in favor of sex offenders.
A darkened house on Halloween night doesn’t always mean the residents are gone or out of candy. It could also be a sign that someone inside is a registered sex offender.
In states like Georgia, Missouri, Texas and California, sex offenders under supervision must keep their lights on and their doors closed between a set time frame on Halloween night.
Some states and local jurisdictions provide a sex offender finder that parents can access before their children go trick-or-treating.
In Georgia, Newton County authorities are sharing Halloween safety tips that include an app to locate nearby sex offenders, says Jett, the spokesman.
California also provides a sex offender finder in its “Operation Boo” guide. for parents on Halloween, along with videos on ways to talk to kids about safety.
“Although sexual abuse or kidnappings were not prevalent on Halloween night in California … we still want to offer some traditional safety tips if you’re planning to go out with your family,” says the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. “Awareness can help keep children and teens safe.”
Authorities in Indianapolis, where Wilkins lives with her three young children, ordered released sex offenders to obey a Halloween night curfew and stay home with the lights off and no candy handed out.
Sheriff’s offices in the state also publish an interactive map showing where sex offenders live.
Before moving into her neighborhood, Wilkins mapped out all nearby registered sex offenders and made sure her children avoided those homes.
“They know not to go anywhere near those houses,” she told CNN. “I told them that when you see this man, you should not speak to him.