By Kelli Dugan
MOBILE, Ala (Reuters) - Authorities in one southeast Alabama county have special Halloween plans for certain sex offenders, designed to keep trick-or-treaters safer and parents more at ease.
The Russell County Sheriff's Department has ordered nearly a quarter of the county's registered sex offenders -- those either on parole or probation -- to spend three hours of All Hallows' Eve at their own little party in the county commission chambers.
There won't be any party favors, but those in attendance will receive a timely, and mandatory, update on the latest registration requirements, said Russell County Sheriff Heath Taylor.
"My thought process in this was that to protect our kids. If we save one somebody from becoming a (sex offender's) victim, then it's done its job," he said.
The program is a joint venture between the sheriff's office and the Alabama Department of Pardons and Paroles. About 35 of the county's 150 registered sex offenders are either on parole or probation, but Taylor said his office can only encourage the remaining 115 offenders to attend the meeting voluntarily.
"We can't make them do it, but for the ones that it's voluntary, we're hoping they'll come on in and get some help with their next registration," Taylor said, noting about one dozen offenders had already volunteered to attend the program by late Thursday afternoon.
Alabama law requires sex offenders to register four times per year at a cost of $10 per registration. Any offender who voluntarily attends the Halloween meeting will have the fee for their next registration period waived, Taylor said.
"This is just something we felt we needed to do for the safety of our community, and I really think it's going to be a good thing," he said.
Russell County is not alone in its quest to contain any holiday-induced threats to its littlest residents, but laws governing the activities of convicted sex offenders on Halloween vary widely from city to city and state to state.
Although no statewide law bars sex offenders from handing out candy to Alabama trick-or-treaters, neighboring Florida enacted a law in 2010 that not only bans that but also bars offenders from wearing costumes children might find appealing.
In California's Riverside County, two separate cities passed ordinances within the past week barring sex offenders from passing out candy, and sheriff's deputies in Virginia's Loudon County will visit residences of sex offenders Monday night to ensure all parole or probation requirements are being met.
A spokesman with the Loudon County Sheriff's Office said "Operation Porch Lights Out" also prohibits violators on probation or parole from turning on their porch lights, answering their doors for trick-or-treaters or displaying "inviting" decorations on Halloween.
(Editing by Jerry Norton)