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Illinois Court Rules Indefinite Detention of Sex Offenders Due to Lack of Approved Housing Unconstitutional

by Scott Grammer

“Paul Murphy is indigent and homeless.” So begins a decision by U.S. District Court Judge Virginia M. Kendall, released on March 31, 2019. Murphy, convicted of possession of child pornography in 2012, was sentenced to three years probation. His probation was later revoked due to several violations. Murphy had been approved for release in March 2014, but as of the date of Judge Kendall’s ruling he still had not been freed because he “was unable to find a host site that the [Illinois Department of Corrections] would approve.”

The lawsuit, brought by a class comprised of affected sex offenders like Murphy, challenged the constitutionality of such practices by the IDOC. Judge Kendall wrote, “At the very heart of the liberty secured by the separation of powers is freedom from indefinite imprisonment by executive decree. The Attorney General and [IDOC] Director’s current application of the host site requirement results in the continued deprivation of the plaintiffs’ fundamental rights and therefore contravenes the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution of the United States.”

As the judge explained, “Illinois, like many states, requires sentencing courts to follow a term of imprisonment with a term of mandatory supervised release. Supervised release is a form of post-confinement monitoring intended to assist individuals in their transition from prison to liberty. Most supervised release terms are determinate, but some – including those that apply to several sex offenses – are indeterminate, meaning they range from three years to natural life. The clock on these terms does not start ticking until sex offenders are out of prison, but some never make it that far because they are indigent and the State demands that they first secure a qualifying host site before it will release them. Many offenders successfully complete their entire court-ordered terms of incarceration yet remain detained indefinitely because they are unable to find a residence due to indigence and lack of support.”

Judge Kendall pointed out that “[t]here are no halfway houses or transitional housing facilities in Illinois that will accept an individual convicted of a sex offense.... Additionally, the IDOC does not permit any sex offender to use a homeless shelter as his or her host site. This group of people is also ineligible for work release programs that the IDOC provides.” She added that “for someone who is homeless, it is virtually impossible to comply with the IDOC’s application of the host site requirement.... Thus, the defendants’ application of the host site requirement constitutes cruel and unusual punishment.”

Her ruling concluded by stating: “The Illinois Legislature thought it best to rehabilitate sex offenders by reintegrating them, like all other convicted felons, into the community after prison. The Constitution thus entitles them to the same conditional liberty that all other releasees receive. Because the defendants’ current application of the host-site requirement permits the indefinite detention of the plaintiffs, it breaches the promises enshrined in the Bill of Rights.”

The class-action suit remains pending on several still-unresolved matters, such as what manner of relief the plaintiffs are entitled to and other issues which are the subject of current settlement negotiations. See: Murphy v. Raoul, U.S.D.C. (N.D. Ill.), Case No. 1:16-cv-11471; 2019 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 54881. 

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Related legal case

Murphy v. Raoul