A small-town Georgia mayor plans on confining the town's sex offenders to city hall for Halloween night, despite evidence that there's no spike in sex crimes against children on the holiday.
"In order to ensure the safety of our children, all sex offenders in the City of Grovetown area will be housed in the Council Chambers on Halloween night from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m.," Grovetown mayor Gary Jones announced on Facebook Monday morning. "There are approximately 25-30 offenders and they will be overseen by 4 officers from Georgia Probation Department and one Grovetown officer."
The policy will only apply to offenders who are on probation, not all registered sex offenders in the town (a move that would have almost surely been illegal).
In any case, the move is yet another hysterical response to a largely mythical fear: the incurable and irrepressible pedophile who targets random children on Halloween.
The thing is, data just doesn't back up those fears. Study after study has found that same-crime recidivism rates for sex offenders hover between 3 and 4 percent, lower than other types of crime and nowhere near the 80 percent rate once falsely cited by Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy, for instance.
As Reason's Lenore Skenazy recently wrote about Patch.com's regrettable tradition of publishing the addresses of sex offenders on Halloween, there's also no evidence that sex crimes against children rise on Halloween:
[A] thorough study of 67,000 cases of child molestation found zero increase in sex crimes against children on Halloween.
The vast majority of crimes against children are not committed by strangers, but by people close to the kids. Stranger danger is actually pointing worried parents in the wrong direction.
What's more, sex offenders are not especially likely to go after kids on Halloween. Contrary to popular belief, "across the board the majority of sexual offenders do not go on to reoffend," says Jill Levenson, a professor of social work who has studied Halloween crime.
"The research is very clear: There's no increased risk to children on Halloween," says Sandy Rozek, communications director for the National Association for Rational Sexual Offense Laws. "Virtually all sexual offenses against children are committed by those in their lives, those they already know or are close to—often family members, peers, and authority figures."
But the lack of data—or the data flat-out contradicting popular belief, to be more precise—hasn't stopped public officials from thinking about the children.
For example, because of Miami-Dade County's incredibly broad restrictions on where sex offenders may live, many have been forced to survive in constantly shifting homeless camps, hounded by police from location to ever-more-remote location.
As The Washington Post's Radley Balko wrote last year, there is something fundamentally at odds with our concept of justice in America to release sex offenders from prison, which for every other type of offender signals that they have paid their debt to society, and then continue to punish them in perpetuity:
There isn't much sympathy out there for sex offenders. But if the public wants to prioritize retributive justice over all else and put every sex offender away for life after the first offense, then let's have that debate. I wouldn't favor that approach. But that at least is a much more honest discussion than how we've approached this issue for the past 30 years or so. What we've done instead is allowed sex offenders to be "released" from prison, but then made it impossible for them to live anything resembling normal lives. Casting them off and marginalizing them after they're out, regardless of the nature of their crimes, isn't just cruel; it doesn't make society any safer, either.
Who cares about nerdy studies and abstract concepts of justice, though, when you can fear-monger on the spookiest of nights? It's a surefire recipe for votes, but not much else.