BERLIN – When trick-or-treaters young and old head out for the annual Halloween tradition later this month, the scariest sights they might see are the “No Candy at This Residence” signs posted on the doors of the dozens of registered sex offenders in the area.
The rather ominous signs adorned with a sneering pumpkin were sent out to the roughly 1,200 registered violent and child-sex offenders across Maryland last week and are required to be posted on the registrants’ homes on or before Halloween on Oct. 31. Arriving in the mail with the signs is a letter from the state’s Division of Parole and Probation mandating registered sex offenders in the state stay at home, turn off outside lights and do not answer their doors on Halloween.
“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 to registered sex offenders receiving the “no candy” here signs reads.
Maryland began placing the Halloween restrictions on registered sex offenders back in 2005. Locally, there is currently around 74 registered sex offenders living and working in Worcester County, according to Sheriff’s Department Detective Lou Esposito, who oversees the county program.
A check of the official registry this week revealed there are currently 18 registered sex offenders living in the 21842 zip code, which includes Ocean City and much of West Ocean City. There are also 18 registered sex offenders in the 21811 zip code, which includes Berlin and much of Ocean Pines, and another 10 living in the Snow Hill area.
Otherwise, the remaining registered sex offenders in the north end of the county are scattered in rural communities.
Registered offenders across the state must comply with the strict regulations or face the possibility of violating parole. While the mandated restrictions are strictly adhered to in densely populated metropolitan areas around the state, Esposito said he is not overly concerned with the people under his watch in Worcester County.
His department will do cursory investigations on a handful of offenders with a shaky history of compliance. The county’s Parole and Probation division will also be doing their own checks on Halloween for offenders under their watch.
“Some of the metropolitan areas are more restrictive,” he said. “We’ll check on a few of our people, and Parole and Probation will be out there checking on their people. There will probably be some overlap, but we’re confident we won’t have any problems.”
Esposito said he has heard from numerous registered sex offenders in the area asking if they are required to adhere to the restrictions.
“I’ve gotten phone call after phone call from them asking if they really have to comply with everything in the packet,” he said. “Absolutely, if they do not comply, they could find themselves in trouble again.”
Esposito said he has not seen any problems with the registered offenders in Worcester during his time overseeing the local program, either at Halloween, or at other times of the year.
“Just about all of our offenders are generally in compliance,” he said. “They are required to report in when they move or change jobs or even get a new cell phone number. We haven’t had any problems. Most of them appear to be trying to move on with their lives.”
Nonetheless, the nature of Halloween is reason enough to impose the restrictions of registered sex offenders across the state, according to the letter accompanying the “no candy” signs.
“Because Halloween is a holiday in which large numbers of children interact with strangers, the concern among parents and other community members about sex offenders in their neighborhoods is naturally intensified during this time of year,” the letter reads.
Of course, some question if the restrictions go to far. In Missouri, which has practically the same restrictions as Maryland, four registered sex offenders along with the ACLU, have filed suit challenging the mandated Halloween restrictions for offenders.