Thursday, October 8, 2015

Halloween 2015 is 3 Weeks Away, Will the Virginia Department of Corrections be Promoting the Myth-Based Operation Trick-or-Treat AND Operation Lights-Out with a Press Release or Not?

Last year during the VA CURE Conference (a week and a half after Halloween) I asked, Director of Reentry Programs for the Virginia Department of Corrections (VA-DOC ) Ms. Scott Richeson about the VA-DOC Halloween Programs for Registered Sex Offenders (RSO’s). 

I did this because in 2014 the VA-DOC regurgitated the same Press Release (see above) to every media outlet in the Commonwealth on the DOC Halloween programs Operation Trick-or-Treat AND Operation Lights-Out for those RSO’s under DOC Probation.  

I also learned last year that some RSO’s under VA-DOC supervision were instructed to post signs on their front doors (see below) to stop trick-or-treaters from ringing their bell or knocking on their door. 

I pointed out these programs and the Press Releases announcing them as successful are in fact “barriers” for the successful reentry of former offenders who are also RSO’s, running contrary to the message the VA-DOC was sending at the Virginia CURE conference of fact-based programs to create successful reentries for former-offenders. 

Knowing that Halloween 2015 is just 3 weeks away and anticipating that the VADOC probably plans to continue the charade of promoting these VA-DOC programs as preventative measures when the VADOC is actually perpetuating an urban-myth that everyone listed on the Virginia Registry is looking for new victims and Halloween provides them with an opportunity that they don’t have the other 364 days of the year (even though RSO's recidivism rate is the 2nd LOWEST of ALL crimes) I have contacted the Virginia DOC and Sect. of Public Safety. Maybe 2015 will finally be the end to this madness! 

Before these VA-DOC programs existed and since, there has NOT been one case of a Registered Sex Offender abducting, molesting or killing a child or an adult on October 31st. But yet year-after-year the Administration continues 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 to keep their lights off. These steps are not preventative but they are punitive because by doing so the Commonwealth  is telling all of their neighbors that the ex-offender, no matter how long ago their conviction was, no matter how much therapy they participated and no matter what debt they’ve paid to their victim and society……….the State is highlighting them as a significant danger on Halloween because they go the extra mile to notify the local news stations and the newspapers so a story is run about these smoke-screen VA-DOC programs.  

The State is not removing barriers, but creating them with these programs, signs and press releases. 
The state of Virginia does NOT “round up” or “lock down” citizens who have been previously convicted of a DUI on Halloween or on New Years Eve even though both holidays are known for drinking and traffic fatalities. Wouldn’t they be just as risky or tempted by those holidays? In theory yes, in reality no. 

What do these VADOC myth-based initiatives actually do? 

  • They set up our RSO’s (and their family members) up as vigilante targets on the one day of the year teenagers are looking for someone to target! Their spouses and parents hear nasty comments being made, they don’t get to decorate their home for the holiday and they worry that their home or vehicles could be vandalized or worse they might be personally attacked.
  • They deny the children of RSO’s from having their porch light on and answering their door to give out candy.
  • They deny the children of RSO’s from having their parent (who is an RSO) take them trick or treating. 
As long as the Commonwealth continues to promote these Halloween programs they are participating in propaganda, not evidence-based programs. 

In 2015 Virginia should be making every effort to avoid politicizing any group of our citizenry especially since we are claiming the state is removing unnecessary barriers. 

I look forward to seeing how the VADOC approaches this issue over the next 3 weeks. 

I’m sure this will not be my only post about Halloween 2015, but I hope it is. 

In Virginia there is no law prohibiting RSO’s from participating in Halloween activities.

RSO’s (and their family members or room-mates) can: 
  1. Have their front door light on
  2. Decorate their home/yard
  3. Wear a costume
  4. Accompany their own children trick-or-treating
  5. Answer their door and hand out candy
BUT, if the RSO is under Virginia’s Department of Correction Probation Supervision then there MAY be restrictions specific to THAT RSO that they MUST follow or face a probation violation (a felony).  

Each VA-DOC Probation District handles Halloween differently and they are obligated to advise the RSO ahead of time of their restrictions or requirement to attend a Probation meeting. Your Probation officer could also stop by your home to confirm you have followed the rules your District advised you of before October 31st. 

Just because the local news station may run a story telling viewers Sex Offenders are prohibited from celebrating Halloween in Virginia doesn’t mean it’s true! 

For all other RSO’s in Virginia keep in mind in past years the Virginia State Police has partnered with the U.S. Marshal’s to do one of the two annual residential compliance checks for a select group on the day before Halloween, the day of and the day after. So your VSP Compliance Officer could show up with an entourage to intentionally make a scene in front of your entire neighborhood, under the guise of “public safety”. It makes quite a spectacle with numerous people exiting their vehicles in flak-jackets and guns on their hips. I’ve heard from numerous parents, spouses and offenders over the years and when these checks happen on the actual holiday it creates a terrible atmosphere for the kids, the holiday spirit is squashed and can’t be revived. If you are not on DOC-Probation and you are notwanted”, then you are not required by law to let the VSP Officer or the U.S. Marshal enter your residence……. but you should do your best to make the uncomfortable situation as pleasant as possible for everyone including your family members, room-mates and neighbors. 

Facts about Halloween and Registered Sex Offenders: 

  1. Experts say Halloween laws against Sex Offenders are a Scare Tactic October 31, 2013
  2. Dr. Karen Franklin: Yet Another Year of (yawn) Halloween Security Theater October 31, 2013        Evidence and common sense no match for hype
  3. Halloween Sex Offender Laws Are Unjustified October 31, 2013
  4. Fear the Bogeyman: Sex Offender Panic on Halloween October 25, 2013
  5. Manufacturing Fear: Halloween Laws for Sex Offenders October 21, 2013
  6. Sex Offenders: Halloween’s Boogeyman October 31, 2011        Registered abusers are being rounded up tonight to protect trick-or-treaters. How real is the threat, though?
  7. Halloween Sex Offender Scare Is Largely Myth October 22, 2011
  8. The Halloween Sex Offender Hoax October 22, 2011
  9. Season of the Regulator October 29, 2010        The killjoys come out on Halloween
  10. Halloween Sex Offender Policies Questioned October 22, 2009
Mary Devoy