Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Virginia Department of Corrections Halloween Programs are Myth-Based.......and They Know It!


Halloween was a week and a half ago and I had no plans on another post about the holiday, but then I attended the Virginia CURE annual conference this past Saturday. (You can see photos of the first half of the event on Virginia CURE’s Facebook page).

One of the invited speakers was Ms. Scott Richeson, Director of Reentry Programs for the Virginia Department of Corrections.
After each speaker completes their presentation questions from the audience are taken and I had decided to ask  how the DOC can claim they support and provide former offenders with opportunities for successful reentry back into our communities removing unnecessary barriers but yet EVERY year the VADOC regurgitates the same Press Release (see below) to every media outlet in the Commonwealth on the Halloween programs Operation Trick-Not-Treat AND Operation Porch-Lights-Out for those Registered Sex Offenders under DOC Probation. These programs and the Press Releases announcing them as successful are in fact “barriers” for the successful reentry of former offenders who are also Registered Sex Offenders (RSO’s) running contrary to the message the VADOC was sending at the Virginia CURE conference. 

I said, 

That these two DOC programs are sold as a preventive measure……….prevention is a noble goal but there is no crystal ball of future crimes or future perpetrators. Because the VADOC touts these programs every year as successful they are perpetuating the urban myth that everyone on our Registry is a dangerous Predator lying in wait for a child to enter into their trap. 

Before these DOC programs existed and since…….there has NOT been one case of a Registered Sex Offender abducting, molesting or killing someone on Halloween night. 

In fact….. ALL empirical research on this issue has concluded that Halloween is no more dangerous a day….. than any other day of the year for our children OR…. for RSO’s to reoffend. (I had copies of the research in my hand and held them up) 

If the state truly supports  the successful re-entry of former offenders BACK into our communities and wants to remove barriers ……. 

Then how can the Commonwealth continue to advertise and implement these Halloween programs that deny former offenders, their spouses and children from participating in Halloween activities on the holiday, that holds a felony over their head (even if the original conviction was a misdemeanor) if they fail to show up to the Probation office for the “lock-down” or keep their lights off AND that continue to remind all neighbors of the ex-offenders that no matter how long ago their conviction was the State considers them  a danger today and goes the extra mile to notify the local news stations and the newspapers so a story is run advising all their viewers and readers…. of these DOC programs??????? (I had copies of the Press Release in my hand and held it up) 

I had planned to also say, 

If similar programs existed for other offenders I might not conclude that the DOC Halloween programs are pure propaganda BUT the state does not “round up” or “lock down” citizens who have been convicted of a DUI…. on Halloween or New Year’s Eve …..and wouldn’t they be just as risky or tempted by those holidays? In theory yes, in reality no. 

But I needed to rap up my question so I skip over this part but amazingly someone else in the room immediately tagged onto my question and pretty much said exactly that. It was great! 

Ms. Richeson knows me and in fact acknowledged during her brief response to my question that she had dropped the ball years back in actually scheduling a meeting for us to discuss DOC initiatives for Virginia’s Registered Sex Offenders. Her answer to this conflict was……. it’s a political atmosphere and the public believes these programs work and she and I will just have to agree to disagree on this issue. 

Yep! The VADOC knows the programs are unnecessary and based on myth but advertising they exist and continuing the charade gives the pubic peace of mind even though it runs contrary to the successful reentry of former offender initiative. 

Afterwards an attendee of the conference shared with me that the VADOC not only has these two programs BUT requires the RSO in districts where these programs run to sign a contract AND to post a sign on their front door on Halloween night. I asked the gentleman that shared this information with me to send me a copy of the contract and of the sign and he DID! (see below). 

I had no idea that VADOC mandated colored signs advertising an RSO under Probation supervision lived at the residence to be displayed on their front door. They might as well ask them to place a giant target on their property on the one holiday of the year where egging, toilet-papering and doggy-do in a paper bag set ablaze for teenagers is a right-of-passage. The RSO’s front lights are required to be out and they can’t open their front door AND a sign pointing out a Registered Sex offender resides there is posted for everyone to see.  

Thank you VADOC for setting our RSO’s up as vigilante targets on the one day of the year teenagers are looking for someone to vandalize! 

Thank you VADOC for claiming to support successful reentry of former offenders but doing just the opposite when it comes to Halloween and Registered Sex Offenders, their spouses and their children. 

And thank you VADOC for choosing myth-based initiatives over evidence based programs AND for fanning the flames of ignorance instead of taking the opportunity to educate the public that RSO’s have the second lowest recidivism rate of ANY crime. 

It’s clear to me now that the VADOC is intentionally encouraging myth, hate, prejudice and fear for Virginians who are Registered Sex Offenders while claiming the successful reentry of all former offenders. That’s called, talking out of both sides of your mouth and its poor policy! 

Mary Devoy