In Kansas, registered sex offenders allowed to participate in trick-or-treating
If you don’t want your child to trick or treat at a registered sex offender’s house in Kansas, then you’re going to have to do a little research first.
Kansas, unlike other states, does not place any Halloween restrictions on registered offenders, according to state statutes. There are no signs indicating a sex offender’s home, no ban on doling out candy and, at least in Douglas County, no law enforcement specifically assigned to monitor the moves of former sexual predators on the child-friendly holiday.
“The state of Kansas does not have any law that specifically places any restrictions on registered sex offenders regarding Halloween or contacting children on Halloween,” Douglas County Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman Sgt. Kristen Dymacek said. “Other states do, and I think that’s where some of the confusion comes into play.”
While Kansas does not restrict registered sex offenders on Halloween, concerned parents can key up a quick map of houses to avoid if they are opposed to exposing their children to registered sex, drug and violent offenders by visiting http://www.kbi.ks.gov/registeredoffender/GeographicalSearch.aspx. The site even offers the option of entering your home address to see how many offenders live in your neighborhood.
There are 126 registered sex offenders in Douglas County — 111 of them living in Lawrence, according to the Kansas Bureau of Investigation. Of those 126 in Douglas County, only “two or three” of them are currently on parole, and the paroled sex offenders are “informed not to answer the door” if a child rings a doorbell, according to the Douglas County Court Services Office.
Dymacek said that though the sheriff’s office is the agency that registers the sex offenders, because there is no law banning Halloween activities, deputies don’t have an obligation to check on sex offender registrants on the holiday. Lawrence Police Department spokesman Sgt. Trent McKinley said police officers also do not have duties related to offenders on Halloween.
“The sheriff’s office doesn’t have any special protocol related to dealing with or checking on registered sexual offenders on Halloween,” Dymacek said. “We are the agency that registered offenders in Douglas County must register with by state law, but we don’t have protocol related to offenders on Halloween.”
This doesn’t extend to those court-ordered not to have contact with children. Even though they are not prevented from dressing up and celebrating, they should not be interacting with trick-or-treaters, McKinley said. If someone sees this sort of activity, he or she can call police and the incident would be documented.
Other state’s restrictions
Kansas’ neighbor Missouri has statutes that not only ban registered sex offenders from passing out candy on Halloween, but they are also required to “avoid all Halloween-related contact with children,” “remain inside his or her residence” between 5 p.m. and 10:30 p.m., post a sign reading “No candy or treats at this residence” and leave all outside lighting off after 5 p.m. on Oct. 31. Violating these laws is a class A misdemeanor, punishable by jail time and a fine, according to Missouri state law.
And Missouri is not alone; North Carolina, Ohio, Tennessee and Texas currently have “no candy laws” on the books, and in Florida paroled sex offenders can’t even wear Halloween costumes. Other states, like New York and California, have programs in place for law enforcement to monitor sex-offender homes for misconduct on Halloween night. In states like Wisconsin, Virginia and South Carolina registered sex offenders have curfews to follow on Halloween night.
But some say such restrictions are unjust and that states like Kansas are getting it right by not placing holiday-specific bans on registered sex offenders. A paroled California sex offender is suing the state’s Department of Corrections over its “Operation Boo” program requiring paroled offenders to post signs reading “We Do Not Participate in Trick or Treating,” according to federal court documents. The lawsuit claims the program violates his constitutional rights by forcing him to place the sign and interfering with his right to due process.
Alas, parents may not need to worry too much. The few academic studies done on the topic indicate there is little to no difference between the number of child sex crimes that occur on Oct. 31 and any other time of the year.
According to the 2009 article “How Safe Are Trick-or-Treaters?” in which national experts analyzed child sex-crime rates on Halloween, “no increased (child-sex crime) rate on or just before Halloween was found, and Halloween incidents did not evidence unusual case characteristics.” It also said “findings were invariant across years, both prior to and after these policies became popular.”
Additionally, recidivism rates for those convicted of sex crimes are low compared with those who commit other crimes. According to the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics, about 70 percent of people who are imprisoned for property or drug crimes are re-arrested for a similar crime within three years of release. Only 5 percent of those imprisoned for sex crimes are re-arrested for a similar crime within three years of their release.
Still, some Kansas parents like Lawrence father Jeremiah Tolbert say they would bypass a registered sex offender’s home on Halloween in most cases.
“Sex offender is a pretty broad term. Someone who slept with his 17-year-old girlfriend when he was 19? That’s fine,” Tolbert said. “I would probably avoid a house where the offender molested children. I doubt they would be giving candy anyway.”
But regardless of where your child trick-or-treats, McKinley said there are a few tips parents and kids should heed to stay safe:
1) Make sure costumes are visible and preferably reflective so vehicles can see the pedestrian with ease. If that’s not possible, McKinley suggests taking a flashlight with you.
2) Children need to be able to see out of their costumes well while walking and crossing streets.
3) Children should stay in groups and trick-or-treat only in neighborhoods with which they are familiar. An adult should always accompany them.
4) Only accept candy that’s been properly wrapped in factory packaging. Parents should check their child’s candy when they return home.
5) Visit only well-lit homes and never enter houses without a trusted adult.
6) Remind your children never to accept rides from strangers or others they don’t have a trusted relationship with.