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Mandamus Improper Remedy to Challenge Illinois DOC’s “Violating at the Door” Policy

Mandamus Improper Remedy to Challenge Illinois DOC’s “Violating at the Door” Policy

by David Reutter

On November 20, 2014, the Illinois Supreme Court refused to assume jurisdiction over a petition for writ of mandamus seeking to declare the state prison system’s practice of “violating at the door” unconstitutional. The rationale for the Court’s inaction was that the plaintiff failed to establish a clear right to mandamus.

The petition was filed by former prisoner Johnny Cordrey, who was sentenced in 1993 to 36 years in prison for aggravated criminal sexual assault plus a concurrent 30-year term for kidnapping. He also received a three-year term of mandatory supervised release (MSR).

The Prisoner Review Board entered an order in November 2012 imposing anger management, sex offender and outpatient mental health conditions on Cordrey’s MSR. The Board further required him to register as a sex offender with victim notification and electronic monitoring for the duration of his MSR term.

On the day of his scheduled release, April 12, 2013, the Illinois Department of Corrections (IDOC) issued a parole violation stating Cordrey had violated his parole because he had no suitable host site – a post-release residence – where he could serve his MSR. Cordrey’s grievances were denied with a response that IDOC was making “every effort” to find a place for him. Cordery then filed a petition for writ of habeas corpus and was appointed counsel.

Counsel filed a motion for leave to file a petition for mandamus or habeas corpus relief, but later conceded habeas relief was not available for a person serving MSR in prison. Attorneys with the MacArthur Justice Center, Northwestern University Law Center and Uptown People’s Law Center were given leave to file an amicus curiae brief on behalf of 18 organizations.

The state Supreme Court noted that at the time of its review, Cordrey had been released from MSR and was no longer in custody. The Court found the case fell within the public interest exception to the mootness doctrine, thus it addressed the merits of the petition.

“At the outset, we note that Cordrey’s complaint for mandamus does not allege a clear right to relief, a clear duty of the public official to act, and a clear authority in the public official to comply with the writ of mandamus, as well as the lack of other adequate remedies,” the Court wrote. “Based upon [Illinois] statutes, we cannot say that Cordrey has established a clear right to demand that respondents release him to serve his MSR to a suitable host location outside of prison, when no suitable location has been found.”

A “central issue” was the claim that the IDOC’s “violating at the door” policy was unconstitutional. On that point, Cordrey argued that because “more affluent offenders, who can afford suitable housing, can walk out the prison door,” prison officials were granting “liberty to one offender and denying it to another based on the size of their bank accounts.” While that presented “a novel issue of crucial importance to the administration of justice,” the Court observed that Cordrey’s counsel had “conceded at oral argument that some nonindigent offenders are denied MSR for lack of suitable housing, and some indigent offenders are able to find suitable housing and are released on MSR. Further, while Cordrey broadly concludes that he has been denied MSR solely because he is indigent, Cordrey fails to point to any evidence in the record supporting that conclusion.”

The Supreme Court held that “it appears from the Field Services unit’s response to Cordrey’s grievance that the Department of Corrections was unable to find placement for Cordrey due to his status as a sex offender, rather than his status as an indigent.” Further, while the Court was “not insensitive to the plight of inmates that are violated at the door,” Cordrey had nonetheless failed to establish a clear right to mandamus relief. See: Cordrey v. The Prisoner Review Board, 2014 IL 117155, 21 N.E.3d 423 (Ill. 2014).


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Related legal case

Cordrey v. The Prisoner Review Board