NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Costume parties, jack-o-lanterns, haunted houses and handing out treats are forbidden under newly issued Halloween guidelines for Tennessee sex offenders on probation or parole.
The 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.
The restrictions prohibit sex offenders from attending special Halloween events like corn 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 means offenders with children must find someone else to accompany them trick-or-treating, he said. Offenders may not wear costumes, even at adult parties. And if other children come to knock on their doors on Halloween, the offenders must not answer.
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. In Lima, Ohio, and Gaston County, N.C., sex offenders have been ordered to attend meetings with authorities that coincide with the prime hours for trick-or-treating.
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 of the new guidelines, "It sounds like the board's gone completely overboard. It's not treating (the 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.
Board officers will be conducting spot checks to make sure the offenders are complying with the rules. Anyone found violating them faces a possible revocation of their parole or probation.