With Halloween just around the corner, the state of Michigan is spooked. It’s not ghosts, goblins or even the budget hiding under lawmakers’ beds, though – it’s sex offenders. A new bill before the state legislature would prevent sex-crime parolees from participating in Halloween activities, heaping unnecessary restrictions on an already restricted group. Rather than encouraging rehabilitation, legislators are wasting the state’s time coming up with new ways to ensure that sex offenders will spend the rest of their lives paying off their debt to society.
The Grand Rapids Press reported Monday that state Rep. Fran Amos (R-Waterford) introduced a bill to keep sex offenders from handing out candy or even leaving their porch lights on on the evening of Halloween. According to the bill’s supporters, the proposal was not prompted by an incident but rather arose from public sentiment that sex offenders should not be allowed near children. Similar sentiment has also helped state Republicans introduce another law, proposing that the already long, overly encompassing sex offender registry be made retroactive to include offenders from before 1995, which was when the registry went into effect.
The general sentiment of any sensible criminal justice system must be that once you’re released from prison, you’ve finished serving your time. While the government is right to institute systems like parole to ease reformed criminals back into society and to protect people from repeat offenders, the restrictions can only go so far before they violate civil liberties. Ohio toed that line earlier this year when it considered a bill that would require some sex offenders to use fluorescent green license plates on their cars. No such bill was proposed for murderers.
Even co-sponsors of the Halloween proposal are vaguely aware that it is flawed. When asked how the state would enforce the ban, state Rep. Glenn Steil (R-Cascade Township) responded that he didn’t know, and he even conceded that he wasn’t sure that the bill was really important. As Elizabeth Arnovits, the executive director of the Michigan Council of Crime and Delinquency, pointed out, parolees are already ordered to stay away from children, making the law superfluous. By considering this proposal, the state is only pandering to the emotions of nervous parents when it should be focusing on the real problems facing Michigan’s children, like economic stability and health insurance.
The more legislators argue that these parolees are not ready to re-enter society, the less effective the criminal justice system seems. The intention of the penal system is to facilitate the rehabilitation of criminals so that they may become reformed, productive members of society, and restrictions should be implemented with that cause in mind. However, if the government continues to treat sex-crime parolees as if they will inevitably be repeat offenders, it will become a self-fulfilling prophecy. It’s only logical that constantly telling people they can’t change will dissuade them from trying.
It would be dishonest to argue that all sex-crime parolees are completely reformed and that it’s completely safe for children to wander around unaccompanied, especially on Halloween. However, it should be the responsibility of parents to watch out for their kids. The state could help, perhaps by financing adequate streetlights in all neighborhoods, but such sensible action is out of the question when the legislature is busy making sure sex offenders turn off their porch lights.