BIRMINGHAM, Ala. - A southeast Alabama county is trying to round up all its convicted sex offenders on Halloween night to make sure they can't come in contact with children who are out trick-or-treating.
The Russell County Sheriff's Department is requiring about 35 sex offenders who are on probation or parole to come to the county courthouse in Phenix City on Monday night for a mandatory meeting, and they could be charged with a parole violation which can lead to jail time if they fail to show up.
Authorities are asking the county's 115 other registered sex offenders to come to the meeting voluntarily. Sex offenders must pay $20 a quarter to register in the city and county, and anyone who shows up voluntarily will get a free quarter, said Laurie Franklin, an administrative aide to Sheriff Heath Thomas.
Offenders will get an update on the latest registration requirements during the meeting, which will last three hours starting at 6 p.m. CDT.
"I don't think it's going to take three hours. The may show them a movie or something just so they don't have to sit there," Franklin said Thursday.
Marie Davis, a grandmother of eight school-age children, said she's glad children may not be faced with the possibility of knocking on a door and taking candy from someone convicted of a sex crime.
"I don't want them going to any place like that. Oh Lord, Jesus, don't let that happen," said Davis.
Another grandmother, Diane Goggans, said the meeting will make some parents feel safer but could be a violation of the offenders' rights. She's not worried about the safety of her own grandchildren, ages 8, 5 and 4.
"They will all go trick-or-treating, but they will all go with mommy or dad and they'll only go to peoples' houses they know," said Goggans. "But there are so many children who aren't cared for that way."
Other places have tried to clamp down on convicted sex offenders around Halloween.
In Missouri, sex offenders could face up to a year in jail if they violate a law passed in 2008 barring them from going outside, turning on lights, having "Halloween-related" contact with children or offering candy on Oct. 31. A California county passed a law last year that prohibits convicted sex offenders from decorating their homes for Halloween or passing out candy.
Similar crackdowns have been spreading across the country, said Sandi Hrozek of the internet-based ReformSexOffenderLaws.org, which aims to protect children from abuse while balancing the rights of convicted sex offenders.
"There have been studies done determining that the incidence of sexual assault on children is no higher on Halloween than any other day of the year, and there is not a single reported case on record of a child being assaulted by a registered offender while trick-or-treating. It is what some have called a solution looking for a problem," Hrozek said in an email.
Aside from the meeting in Phenix City, Franklin said the Sheriff's Department was encouraging parents to check an online registry to find sex offenders in their neighborhood. The database includes offenders convicted of crimes involving both juvenile and adult victims.