This Halloween, Parker County officials are trying something new. While children are trick-or-treating through neighborhood streets, the county’s registered sex offenders will be behind closed doors at the probation office.”It’s a community safety issue,” said Michael Stack, the director of the county’s community supervision and correction department.
Stack said that, as part of probation, the offenders must follow this and any other requirements set forth by his department. This Halloween, they must stay in a classroom at the department’s building from 6 to 10 p.m.
The idea here, Stack said, is to “relieve some of the pressure that there are threats out there.”
He also said this plan is in the best interest of the sex offenders. If there are any claims of assault, those offenders who are locked down would be accounted for and, therefore, free from blame.
At face value, it sounds good. Who doesn’t want to protect children from sex offenders?
Look deeper, though, and you’ll find how unjust this plan actually is.
Sure, the best way to prevent crime is to lock up those who commit it. That’s the basis of our prison system. But where do we draw the line between personal liberties and public safety?
Jeff Ferrell, a professor of criminal justice, said he thinks this plan is dangerous because of the potential ramifications.
“This smacks of creating an imbalance and moving far toward control and away from personal freedom,” Ferrell said.
Yes, sexual offenses are horrible, disgusting crimes, but sex offenders are already stigmatized enough. They face restrictions on where they can live and to whom they can talk. They must seek approval before moving, and they are not allowed to be anywhere near schools or day care centers. Many cannot come within just a few feet of a minor. You try staying 50 feet away from all children every single day.
As if that weren’t enough, Parker County officials are now saying these human beings can’t sit in the privacy of their own homes for one night of the year just because children are walking the streets.
Why don’t we just tattoo “pervert” on their foreheads?
Ferrell said this would be just like locking up all TCU students on weekends in order to combat drinking and driving. It’s overkill.
“There are worse things than a crime rate that’s not as low as it can be,” Ferrell said.
I strongly agree.
Is there a chance that a registered sex offender could strike again during Halloween? Yes. But locking up all the known offenders does not stop the problem. There could be countless other potential criminals lurking in the shadows.
And those who study crime have no proof to say this system even works.
“I don’t think our research or our theories justify this as a model of deterrence,” Ferrell said.
He said there are far better methods of prevention, including community involvement and “resocialization.”
The county’s parents should take responsibility, as well. They should trick-or-treat with their children, especially if the children are too young to understand what a sex offender is.
The can of worms has already been opened, though. Now that Stack and other Parker County officials have started this program, it will never end. If they were to repeal it, there would be a mighty cry in opposition from the populous.
What if people expect more in the future? Should we have a lockdown when children are selling candy or cookies? What about during Easter egg hunts or when children are caroling door-to-door during Christmas?
Let’s just lock them up for life because, apparently, we will never be safe until we throw away that key.
Yes, public safety is important, but not at this cost. All humans, even sex offenders, deserve some dignity. Let them live out the terms of probation without further humiliation.
Brian Wooddell is a senior news-editorial journalism major from The Woodlands.