- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 15, 2008

ANNAPOLIS | The Scarlet Letter for Maryland sex offenders this Halloween will be a bright orange pumpkin.

That is the symbol on a sign they are required to post on their doors with a warning, in capital letters, to trick-or-treaters: “No candy at this residence.”

The paper signs began arriving last week in the mailboxes of the roughly 1,200 violent and child-sex offenders across the state with a letter explaining how they are to comport themselves on Oct. 31.

“Halloween provides a rare opportunity for you to demonstrate to your neighbors that you are making a sincere effort to change the direction of your life,” the letter states.

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In addition to posting the sign, the offenders must stay at home, turn off outside lights and not answer the door, according to the letter obtained by The Washington Times.

“Because Halloween is a holiday in which large numbers of children interact with strangers, the concern among parents and other community members about sexual offenders in their neighborhoods is naturally intensified during this time of year,” Patrick McGee, interim director of the state’s Division of Parole and Probation, wrote in the Oct. 1 letter.

Maryland has joined other states across the country in steadily increasing restrictions on convicted sex offenders over the past few years.

In 2005, Maryland began requiring sex offenders in Baltimore to stay inside their homes on Halloween. Last year, the program was expanded statewide and offenders were tracked by parole agents and given a simple sign to hang on their doors that read: “No Candy.”

Maryland’s new regulations are almost identical to those adopted in Missouri this year, particularly the instructions to post the sign and stay at home. Four convicted sex offenders and the American Civil Liberties Union are challenging the Missouri law in federal court.

Louisiana lawmakers this year barred convicted sex offenders from wearing masks on Halloween or during the state’s carnival season.

Other states, including New Jersey and Texas, have begun tracking sex offenders at Halloween over the past five years.

Sex offenders In Maryland who do not post the signs and stay home will be taken to court and charged with a violation of parole.However, the new state initiative is not a law.

“We’ve had very good results,” said Wonda Adams, a supervisor at the Parole and Probation Division and coordinator of the Halloween watch program.

“Our goal is public safety, and in keeping with that we need to make sure that the individuals under our supervision are provided with the enhanced supervision that we’re committed to,” she said.

The state also this year is distributing pamphlets statewide to warn families and trick-or-treaters to stay away from homes with the pumpkin signs, Mrs. Adams said.

Maryland sex offenders are tracked by an online database, listed in the state sex-offender registry and ordered to comply with the Halloween program for varying times - from a lifetime for violent and child sex offenses to 10 years for lesser sex crimes.

State parole and probation agents generally approve of the get-tough initiative, said Raimund Douglas, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 3661, which represents the agents.

However, one agent has called the new sign a “publicity stunt” and said it should clearly state that a violent sex offender lives at the house.

“The division is more worried about being politically correct than protecting public safety,” said the agent, who asked to remain anonymous.

He also said some sex offenders think the pumpkin sign “is a joke” and that one asked “whether we would we be giving him a turkey decoration at Thanksgiving.”

The Maryland ACLU declined to comment for this article.