It's lights out this Halloween for sex offenders on probation or parole.
The state agency that supervises convicted criminals will impose a curfew from 5:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. Wednesday on such registered offenders.
It means they can't attend Halloween parties or turn on outside lights to make their home more inviting for trick-or-treaters. If children happen to knock on their doors, they can't answer the call.
Under the seasonal program that's nearing its 10th anniversary, the state's 900 supervised sex offenders could face jail time or stricter supervision if they don't fall in line. The conditions don't apply to those not on probation or parole.
“Our agents will do surveillance and checks to make sure,” said Peter O'Boyle, spokesman for the S.C. Department of Probation, Parole and Pardon Services. “But our experience is that sex offenders are, for the most part, fairly compliant. They don't want to go back to prison.”
The state encourages local sheriff's offices to conduct their own enforcement initiatives and check-ups on sex offenders. In some counties, that means gathering up all the offenders and making them stay put at a common location for the curfew's duration, O'Boyle said.
In the Lowcountry, where 167 offenders are being supervised, no such efforts are planned, though authorities said they're stepping up general patrols for Halloween.
In Dorchester County, that entails lots of blue lights and extra armed enforcers on the streets, sheriff's Maj. John Garrison said. He said the deputies want to boost their presence and shake any enticement offenders might get by seeing neighborhood children in their front yards.
The goal is avoiding tragedy, and past Halloweens have gone smoothly because of it, Garrison said.
“Sex offenders are pretty much in every neighborhood, and most of the time, you don't even know they're there,” Garrison said. “But when people see blue lights — not just sex offenders — they slow down a bit and think twice.”
Through visits or phone calls, state probation agents checked on 772 sex offenders on Halloween 2010. The effort resulted in four arrests and 12 sanctions, which most often include more frequent checks.
Parolees found in violation must go before the state parole board; those on probation will answer to a judge.
O'Boyle said that most offenders arrested as a result of the curfew were found drunk in public or deliberately deceiving agents about their whereabouts. Any offender who has a legitimate excuse to stray from their homes must let the state know before Halloween.
Maj. Jim Brady of the Charleston County Sheriff's Office said that deputies will do spot checks on sex offenders, but that no organized effort has been planned.
He said it's a good idea for all sex offenders — supervised or not — to stay put and for all parents to keep tabs on their children.
“The important thing is for parents to go with their children or visit neighbors they know,” Brady said. “It's even better when (children) go to a community celebration or events where they're able to do something as a group.”