New York's Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS) is reinterpreting statutes governing where sex offenders can live post incarceration to keep scores of them behind bars past their release dates.
Since February 2014, DOCCS has been citing a 2005 law—restricting many sex offenders from living within 1,000 feet of a school—in continuing to lock up 101 sex offenders who have completed their sentences but are unable to find a place to live and would likely end up in homeless shelters. DOCCS argues that most of the state's homeless shelters—though not permanent residencies—are off-limits because they are within 1,000 feet of a school.
DOCCS' reinterpretation of the law was spurred by state Sen. Jeffrey D. Klein, who lobbied the corrections department by providing DOCCS with reports detailing the number of sex offenders living within 1,000 feet of a school, often in a homeless shelter.
In New York City, where DOCCS' new interpretation of the law is having its most profound effect, only 14 of the city's 270 sanctioned and regulated shelters are eligible to receive sex offenders. DOCCS says that because those shelters are now often filled to capacity, they have been forced to incarcerate sex offenders to which the 2005 law applies beyond their release dates.
Once the shelters inform DOCCS of additional space, department officials say, they will then release the affected sex offenders.
"We are continuously monitoring and updating policies to further improve public safety, and Senator Klein's inquiry was a trigger for a review," DOCCS officials said in a written statement.
According to several of the affected prisoners, including Carlos Bonilla, DOCCS' new policy is a violation of their Fourth and Eighth Amendment rights. Bonilla, 65, is one of many who have filed habeas corpus petitions seeking their release.
Having just completed a two-year sentence for sexually abusing a 13- year-old girl and taking photos of two other girls in their underwear, Bonilla had originally planned to live with his brother, Pedro, in the Bronx after his release. But DOCCS denied Bonilla's request to live there after discovering that Pedro's home was within 1,000 feet of four different schools. Bonilla then proposed living with another brother, but that brother told a sex offender case worker that he didn't have room for Bonilla.
Since late June, DOCCS claims it has made "weekly inquiries regarding alternate proposed addresses" for Bonilla, to no avail.
Bonilla's habeas corpus petition, filed on his behalf by the Legal Aid Society, cited a "wholesale warehousing of sex offenders" by DOCCS. Lawyers representing other sex offenders affected by the law have prepared a map that shows that their clients are prohibited from living virtually anywhere in Manhattan.
Christopher Miller, a spokesman for New York City's Department of Homeless Services, said 238 sex offenders are housed in shelters that are at least 1,000 feet from schools. When they will have space to house more, Miller could not say.
"We have a limited number of beds in a limited number of facilities," Miller said.
Source: New York Times
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