Nashville, Tenn. Sex offenders on probation or parole in Tennessee are banned from Halloween costume parties this year and aren't even allowed to put up decorations like jack-o-lanterns that might attract youngsters.
The new state guidelines are meant to clarify policies that prevent offenders from interacting with children, said Board of Probation and Parole spokesman Jack Elder, and were not enacted in response to any specific problems the board has seen during the Halloween season.
Tennessee isn't the only state keeping close watch on sex offenders during Halloween. New York issued similar Halloween restrictions for sex offenders this year and imposed a 3 p.m. to 6 a.m. Halloween curfew on them. Sex offenders in Lima, Ohio, and Gaston County, N.C., were ordered to attend meetings with authorities that coincide with the prime hours for trick-or-treating.
Maryland has even told sex offenders on parole or probation to keep their porch lights turned off Tuesday night. In addition, Baltimore County will pay about 20 plainclothes officers overtime to work the streets and look for sex offenders who have contact with children other than their own, said county police Cpl. Michael Hill.
The Tennessee restrictions prohibit sex offenders from attending special Halloween events like corn field mazes and haunted houses, handing out treats, displaying Halloween decorations, accompanying trick-or-treating children or wearing costumes.
They apply to all sex offenders on probation or parole - about 2,000 of the 8,100 registered offenders living in the state - and not specifically to those offenders whose crimes involved minors.
"No matter what their sex offense might have been, they must adhere to the same rules," Elder said. "Any sex offender is not supposed to have contact with minors. They all sign the same directives."
That even means that offenders with children must find someone else to accompany them on trick-or-treating walks, he said.
And if other children knock on their doors on Halloween, the offenders must not answer.
Nashville attorney Brent Horst, who challenged a 2004 state law that retroactively prohibited sex offenders from living or working within 1,000 feet of a school, said the new guidelines were not treating sex offenders fairly.
"Now, 99 out of a hundred people will say 'Of course not. They're sex offenders. They ought to be treated this way.' But what bothers me is that it's a slippery slope. Who's next?"
Verna Wyatt, executive director of the statewide victim's rights organization You Have the Power, said the guidelines seemed appropriate.
"When a child comes to a sex offender's house and knocks on a door, it puts the sex offender at risk of re-offending and puts the innocent child at risk," she said.
Parole board officers will conduct spot checks to make sure the offenders are obeying the rules. Violators could lose their parole or probation.