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New York Prison Cannot Hold Sex Offender Beyond Expiration of Sentence

The Supreme Court's Appellate Division, Third Department, held that the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS) may not hold a prisoner beyond his maximum sentence expiration date even if suitable post-release housing has not been found. It also held that DOCCS is statutorily obligated to assist prisoners in finding suitable housing.

William Green was convicted of multiple sex offenses in 2013 and received a sentence of three years in prison followed by seven years of post-release supervision (PRS). He was later adjudicated a level III sexually violent offender under the Sex Offender Registration Act.

Green was not freed on his conditional release date or sentence expiration date, and filed a habeas corpus petition in state court seeking his release. The Supreme Court (a trial-level court in New York) denied the petition on the grounds that Green had not secured suitable housing in light of his level III sex offender status, which required that he be released to an approved residence or a residential treatment facility (RTF) following clearance from the Office of Mental Health. He appealed.

The Appellate Division noted that, during the pendency of the appeal, the Supreme Court had ordered Green to receive and accept assisted outpatient treatment pursuant to Mental Health Law § 9.60, and he had since been released to an approved residence. Normally that would moot the appeal; however, since the situation was likely to recur, the Appellate Division converted his habeas petition into an action for declaratory judgment and issued an opinion.

The court noted that, as a level III sex offender, Green was required to find suitable housing located over 1,000 feet from school grounds. He also suffered from an unspecified mental health condition that complicated his release. Nonetheless, DOCCS did not have the authority to detain him beyond his maximum sentence expiration date. The only exception would have been if DOCCS had received a court order, prior to the release date, authorizing continued hospitalization or admission to a secure detention facility pursuant to the Mental Health Law.

The fact that Green might have been scheduled for transfer to an RTF, but the transfer was prevented because the RTF could not accommodate his mental health needs, did not relieve DOCCS from its obligation to release him once he reached his maximum sentence expiration date. Therefore, the judgment of the Supreme Court was reversed and declaratory judgment in accordance with the opinion was granted. See: People ex rel. Green v. Superintendent of Sullivan Correctional Facility, 137 A.D.3d 56, 25 N.Y.S.3d 375 (N.Y. App. Div. 3d Dep’t 2016). 

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Related legal case

People ex rel. Green v. Superintendent of Sullivan Correctional Facility