This Halloween marks the 7th year that “Operation Scarecrow” has been in effect in the Las Vegas area. Operation Scarecrow is an effort by the Nevada Department of Public safety to heighten surveillance of registered sex offenders during the Halloween holiday. The Division of Parole and Probation adds extra regulations to the conditions to the probation and parole of sex offenders that essentially ban them from Halloween.

During Halloween, registered offenders are required to stay in their houses with the lights off, and not answer the doorbell at any time that night. The extra regulations do not allow offenders to be in any residence where candy is handed out, prevents them from attending any Halloween party where children might be present (including any activities held at their own home) and precludes them from taking their kids Trick-or-Treating or even transporting their children to any event where other children are present.

Parole and Probation Officers visit the homes of offenders in the days leading up to Halloween to advise them of the heightened regulations and to make sure offenders know they are being watched. Officers have been known to call people on the registry to tell them they are coming by to talk about the additional restrictions and then purposefully not show up just to intimidate and scare the offender. The division will also send out extra patrols on Halloween night to serve as surveillance teams watching the homes of registered offenders.

The ACLU of Nevada first expressed concern about the failure of the Department to rationally advance the goal of public safety on Halloween night in the face of possible Constitutional deprivations in 2007. The Department of Public Safety’s policies regarding Halloween, as applied, are overbroad and violate the constitutional rights of people who have been convicted of sex offenses as well as the rights of their family members. Sex offenders and their families have the right to free expression and cannot be prohibited from decorating their residence for the Halloween holiday. Furthermore, restricting an offender from attending any Halloween festivities prevents people from attending even all adult Halloween parties because there may be a child present. Under the watchful eye of the Department of Public Safety, a person convicted of a sex offense cannot even drop their child off at any location to celebrate Halloween and cannot allow their child to celebrate Halloween in their own house in any matter. In essence, a person convicted of a sex offense and their families are prisoners in their own home.

While it is important to advance the goals of public safety, practices like Operation Scarecrow only add to the misunderstanding, fear and assumptions people have about sex offenders in their community. The ACLU of Nevada continues to monitor issues relating to registered sex offenders to ensure that even though they have been convicted of a crime, they are still afforded the rights the Constitution provides every citizen.