by David M. Reutter
On February 2, 2023, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas dismissed a state prisoner’s habeas corpus petition challenging denial of his parole because he did not have approved sex offender housing. While bad news for him, the decision is instructive for any prisoner facing housing restrictions when paroled or on probation.
Charles Isaac Wilson, Jr., is serving a 40-year sentence for a 2010 conviction for delivery of cocaine. In November 2021, the state Parole Board recommended he be transferred from the state Department of Corrections (DOC) to supervision of the state Division of Community Correction (ACC). But that transfer hit a snag because Wilson was convicted in 1983 of rape, which classifies him as a Level 3 sex offender. A transfer to ACC required Wilson to (1) register as a sex offender and (2) stay away from schools and parks.
According to DOC Director Dexter Payne, none of ACC’s approved transitional housing facilities had an available bed for a Level 3 sex offender at that time. There were no family members or friends willing to provide housing for Wilson. He provided two parolee plans to for living arrangements outside transitional housing, but they were rejected.
Wilson then filed his habeas corpus petition, attacking the Parole Board’s discretionary decision to deny him release based on the failure to find transitional housing. But the district court found Wilson had no protected liberty interest in the possibility of parole, so it dismissed the petition. It also refused to provide a certificate of appealability that would excuse Richardson from paying filing fees to an appellate court, further dimming his prospects. See: Wilson v. Payne, 2023 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 18142 (E.D. Ark.).
Housing restrictions keep many sex offenders in prison long after they are eligible for release. Worse, prison rules compelling work for just pennies an hour then force these people into slave labor. But a recent Illinois Supreme Court ruling points to a legal theory that may assist prisoners with such housing restrictions. In People v. Kastman, 2022 IL 127681, that court cited state law to support a finding that the director of the state DOC had authority under the state’s Sexually Dangerous Persons Act “to contribute financial assistance to cover the treatment costs and living expenses of a sexually dangerous person on conditional release.”
The lesson of Kastman is that state laws and rules may already impose duties or obligations for prison officials to assist in providing housing when state law also imposes restrictions on where an offender can live while on conditional release. Reform advocates should also continue to push for laws to ease the burden on this group of people. One place from which it seems prisoners cannot expect much help is the courts; confronted in 2022 with the case of a New York prisoner kept incarcerated and forced to work for low prison wages well past his release eligibility, most justices on the U.S. Supreme Court simply shrugged. [See: PLN, July 2022, p.38.]
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