SACRAMENTO, Calif. – About 2,000 paroled California sex offenders have no permanent home partly because of a state law that bans them from living near schools or parks. This Halloween, however, many will spend the night together under supervision from authorities who want to make sure they have no contact with children out trick-or-treating.
It's the first time the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation is targeting offenders who live on the streets, under bridges or in nomadic campsites, though it has enforced a curfew on offenders who have permanent addresses for nearly 20 years under what it calls "Operation Boo." The new emphasis comes in response to the growing number of transient offenders, said department spokesman Luis Patino.
Their ranks have spiked in the five years since 70 percent of voters approved Jessica's Law.
The law bans offenders from living within 2,000 feet of a school or park. As one result, the number of homeless paroled sex offenders grew from 88 in August 2007, before the department began enforcing the law, to about 2,000 now that it has been fully implemented.
Three of the state's four parole regions are setting up the "transient sex-offender roundup centers," mostly at parole offices or community centers. They include the regions that cover Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco and all of California's coastal counties.
Offenders have been ordered to report to parole centers from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. Monday, where they will be supervised to make sure they have no contact with children out trick-or-treating. The law also required the state to use electronic monitors to track all paroled sex offenders, so parole officers will know if offenders aren't in the curfew centers on Halloween.
California already orders sex offender parolees who have homes to stay inside and turn off their lights, and parolees are barred from putting up Halloween decorations or offering candy.
Patino said corrections officials need to take extra precautions on Halloween to make sure predators don't entice children into their homes. However, he said there has been no spike in child sexual abuse on Halloween since Operation Boo began nearly two decades ago, in part because molesters tend to shy away from the increased scrutiny.
State Sen. Sharon Runner, R-Lancaster, who co-authored Jessica's Law, praised corrections officials for taking the extra steps to monitor offenders without permanent homes.
Many other states have programs enforcing bans on sex offenders participating in Halloween activities. A southeast Alabama county is taking the extra step of rounding up its convicted sex offenders on Halloween night. The Russell County Sheriff's Department is requiring about 35 sex offenders who are on probation or parole to come to the county courthouse. It is asking the county's 115 other registered sex offenders to show up voluntarily to get an update on the latest registration requirements.
Missouri sex offenders face up to a year in jail if they violate a 2008 law barring them from going outside, turning on lights or offering candy Oct. 31.
In California, some counties are going further than the state regulations require.
Riverside County this month approved an ordinance barring all registered sex offenders from decorating their homes, leaving on the lights, answering their doors or passing out candy on Halloween. Violations can bring a $1,000 fine and up to six months in jail. Tulare County passed a similar ordinance last year. The ordinances go beyond the parole requirements by applying to all sex offenders, even if they are no longer on parole.
California officials said they are unaware of efforts to pass such a law statewide.
In many urban areas, there are few places that offenders can live and still comply with California's 5-year-old residency restriction law. Parolees who can't find legal housing can register as transient, meaning they must live day-to-day in cheap hotels, homeless shelters or on the street. They still are bound by the 2,000-foot rule, so they cannot legally stay under a bridge near where children gather, for instance.
However, the state Corrections Department is responsible for only about 11,000 of the more than 75,000 registered sex offenders who live in California communities. The rest are off parole and so aren't subject to the department's rules.
The region that covers the Central Valley and Sierra Nevada, including Sacramento, Fresno, Modesto and Redding, is not requiring offenders to come to parole centers because it covers such a sprawling, rural area. The region spans 33 of the state's 58 counties, from Bakersfield to the Oregon border. Parole agents will fan out Halloween night to locations where homeless sex offenders congregate to make sure they are having no contact with children.
The department's website, www.cdcr.ca.gov, is also offering a parents' guide and an oversize coloring book-style "Operation Boo Parent Patrol" badge. Parents can wear the badge "to send a message to predators that they're being watched," according to the department.
"Halloween gives us an opportunity to make people aware, because people are already discussing scary things," said Patino. "The point is it's not just on Halloween but all the time."