The state's Department of Correction and Community Supervision has designated a portion of Fishkill Correctional Facility in Beacon to serve as a 'residential treatment facility' for sex offenders who have served their terms but have not been released.

A combination of prison policies, restrictive laws and a lack of housing support has kept many New York sex offenders in prison conditions for months or years after they’ve served their time.

As previously reported by the Marshall Project in a story that appeared at City Limits, a lawsuit filed by a group of offenders last year contends that the state is illegally detaining sex offenders beyond the end of their sentences. In addition to detaining offenders beyond the terms of their sentences, the complaint alleges that the state is mislabeling parts of its prisons as “Residential Treatment Facilities.” Ideally an RTF is a sort of halfway house between prison and community supervision. But in fact, the lawsuit says, the state is holding offenders in the same conditions and restrictions as prison.

The problem, however, runs deeper than the detention policies themselves. A mix of legal, political and fiscal constraints make it extremely difficult to find a place for sex offenders who have paid their debt to society to live.

“The New York corrections law requires that a Residential Treatment Facility be a community- based residence in or near a community where employment, educational and training opportunities are available for persons on parole or conditional release. These facilities are simply not by any stretch of the means community based residences,” says Matthew Freimuth, a lawyer for the offenders. Lawyers from Prisoners Legal Services, New York Legal Aid; and Willkie, Farr and Gallagher LLP represent the offenders.

The lawsuit alleges that New York State has, without legal authority, declared sections of several correctional facilities, including Fishkill and Woodbourne Correctional Facilities, as Residential Treatment Facilities (RTFs) in order house offenders after they have served their time.

“Fishkill houses 1,900 inmates,” he says. “It has a razor-wire topped fence, cell blocks. These petitioners who are supposed to be in RTFs wear the prison green, share the same exercise hall. They’re treated as if they were the same as the general population.”

New York State law allows for sex offenders to be housed in RTFs for up to six months following the completion of their prison sentences. Following that period of six months, the state does not have the authority to continue to detain offenders. It must release the offenders to community supervision. The lawsuit alleges that the state of New York is unlawfully holding these men beyond the “maximum expiration date” of their sentences. The suit alleges that in two cases, offenders were unlawfully detained for more than a year.

In Alcantara v. Annucci, the petitioners allege that the state has overstepped its legal boundaries by converting correctional facilities into RTFs and that the state and New York City have failed to adequately provide legally mandated assistance to offenders who are looking for housing as they approach and are held beyond their release dates.

“The petitioners are given no programs that really allow any sort of meaningful interaction with anybody from the community. Requests that they’ve made to work outside the facility are routinely denied. They don’t have any opportunity to leave the facility,” says Freimuth. “It’s not really meaningfully community based.”

Both sides of the dispute estimate that 85 to 100 sex offenders are currently held in RTFs at state corrections facilities. While the state would not comment on pending litigation, a spokesperson for the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS) says the men are not being held indefinitely, only until they can find a bed in a compliant shelter.

The stamp of SARA

If the state is violating the law for use of RTFs, another law might be to blame.

An amendment to the Sexual Assault Reform Act (SARA), enacted in 2006, prevents recently released sex offenders from living or spending significant time within 1,000 feet of schools or services that primarily serve children. The 1,000 feet is determined “as the crow flies,” i.e. in a straight line, regardless of whether an individual could actually walk to the location in 1,000 feet or less.

“The prisoner brings an address to the parole officer and the PO will run it through a program they have to determine whether or not the address is SARA compliant. It is entirely incumbent upon an individual to come up with a SARA compliant address,” says Freimuth.

Freimuth added that the state does not disclose the algorithm or maps used to determine whether or not an address is SARA compliant. Offenders and their families and advocates cannot fully vet proposed addresses without the assistance of the state, which can slow the process and delay finding housing. Though this seems like a small detail, how the state measures 1,000 feet is crucial: measuring 1,000 feet from the property line, 1,000 feet from the street or 1,000 feet from a school building change what addresses are available to released offenders.

New York City’s right-to-shelter laws complicate the issue. Typically a person released from prison could appeal to the homeless shelter system and be granted housing. For released sex offenders this is a complicated process: The only intake center for single men (where homeless men can go and, on paper, cannot be turned away) is not in a SARA compliant building.

“In 2014 the state concluded that the 30th Street intake shelter, which is where all homeless persons seeking shelter must report and reside for an initial period of some days and weeks before being reassigned, was too close to a school,” says Newman of the Legal Aid Society. “Because the state could no longer, in their opinion, release people to report to that homeless intake shelter, the state only then started using these prisons–which they administratively designed as RTFs–to house people who were legally entitled to release.”

Now, offenders without homes are sent to RTFs until they can find SARA compliant housing, said the attorneys representing the sex offenders.

SARA is not the final word on a shelter however. The prison system will only send prisoners to shelters that DOCCS and DHS for use by offenders. According to the lawsuit, those designations have a political dimension: The DOCCS/DHS approved shelters are determined not just by SARA, but also by community pressure. Community opposition can certainly make placing sex offenders in shelters difficult. For instance, 39 men were removed from a South Ozone Park shelter in 2014 following pressure from community members and local politicians.

According to the lawsuit (which cites the Department of Homeless Services), only nine of the roughly 200 homeless shelters in New York City are SARA compliant. Despite the limited number of SARA compliant shelters, there are enough beds to provide shelter for the offenders held in RTFs, said the attorneys.

In order to release the offenders to the compliant homeless shelters, other shelter residents would have to be moved. The neighborhoods around the nine shelters would see an uptick in the number of registered offenders, which, historically, has prompted community pushback.

The attorneys and offenders allege that DHS is not fulfilling its legal duty to shelter homeless New Yorkers because the agency refuses to place the offenders in the compliant shelters.

A spokesperson for DHS said that they do not comment on pending litigation.

‘Legislated Homelessness’

The difficulties faced by the formerly incarcerated are well documented. Jobs are harder to come by and finding stability after prison takes hard work and good luck. The support of friends, family and government services is essential to help newly released citizens acclimate to a world beyond prison walls.

But those supports are only useful and effective if the offenders are actually released to a community that is equipped to help them, says Newman. The stigma against sex offenders means that finding willing and effective assistance is especially difficult.

In “Hidden Challenges” a paper on sex offenders and homelessness published in the Journal of Social Work in 2016, Dr. Jill Levenson, an associate professor of Social Work at Barry University, addressed the fear and concern that drives these restrictions.

“Over the past several decades, in response to a series of highly publicized heinous sexual crimes, lawmakers have responded swiftly and decisively to the public’s demand for protective legislation,” Levenson wrote. “SORR [Sex Offender Residency Restriction] laws frequently force sex offenders to relocate, prevent them from returning to their own homes after incarceration, and preclude them from living with family members.”

“It is estimated that 10–30 percent of homeless individuals have recently been released from incarceration or have a criminal record of some sort,” wrote Levenson. “What began with good intentions quickly escalated into a crisis that continues today.”

Levenson refers to ‘legislated homelessness,’ essentially a legal mandate that prevents offenders from finding housing. SARA restrictions do not account for every homeless person with a criminal record but they do potentially drive released offenders away from familial support, Levenson wrote. At worst, this pushes released offenders into a transient existence away from government monitoring.

According to a policy paper prepared by the Association for the Treatment of Sexual Abusers (ATSA) in 2014, there is no connection between offenders proximity to schools and other restricted buildings and their recidivism rate. The paper’s authors outline that the overwhelming majority of offenses occur in situations where the offender knows his or her victim. Citing reports from Minnesota, New Jersey, Colorado and Florida, the paper concludes that residency restrictions do not affect whether or not a sex offender will reoffend.

Once released from prison, sex offenders are required to check in with parole officers and inform the state of any changes of address or new jobs.

Lots of rules, little help

According to documents filed with the lawsuit, the state justifies the detention of offenders under a section of the corrections law that allows the corrections commissioner to use any RTF as a residence for people on community supervision.

For a typical prisoner, the risks of being corralled into an RTF after serving a complete sentence are extremely low, said Robert Newman, of the Legal Aid Society. Sex offenders are singled out in this regard because of New York’s housing restriction law and New York City’s density.

“Although DOCCS claims in their argument that they use these facilities for prisoners other than sex offenders, I have not heard of any instance in my decades as a Legal Aid lawyer where any prisoner has been put in an RTF who was otherwise entitled to release until they started this implementation based on the Sexual Assault Reform Act,” he said.

Adding to the problem, say advocates, is the fact that DOCCS does little to help sex offenders navigate the complex legal geography of post-prison housing.

Despite the legal requirement to provide housing assistance to offenders, the complaint alleges that the state does not do enough to assist offenders. New York State corrections law states that NYS “shall assist inmates eligible for community supervision and inmates who are on community supervision to secure employment, educational or vocational training, and housing.” In the past, courts have acknowledged that the burden of finding housing does not solely fall on the individual. The state is required to offer help.

20 thoughts on “Sex Offenders Face Housing Maze After Prison Release

  1. These laws are doing exactly what the low-down, sorry politicians and corrections officials intend; making it absolutely impossible for these people WHO HAVE PAID THEIR FAIR DEBT TO SOCIETY from ever having any semblance of a normal, peaceful life after prison. The fact is that they’re not wanted or welcomed back out on the streets ever again and those in authority are ensuring that’s what happens; the offenders stay locked up for as long as possible; ideally forever. Shame on those who make, enforce, or support such spiteful, vengeful laws that are designed to ensure failure.

  2. I know many sex offenders that live in nyc shelters like wards island that have homes and families that they can go to ASAP if it weren’t for these laws. Over 53% of sex offenders living there have where to go. The mayor wouldn’t have this homelessness problem if he would lower the restrictions atleast to 300 feet like Rhode Island. It’s very unfair because murderers don’t get restricted from living with their families nor are violent offenders who rob people with guns over and over again. This needs to stop because when someone wants to hurt including people without a criminal record, 1000 feet won’t stop them from doing it. So please stop judgment and help to stop this insanity and cruel punishment that isn’t helping anyone.

  3. Why are people with jobs not on parole or probation living in the same shelters should they be place in a working shelters

    • Working shelters? How is that going to happen with out the funds to run it? Be glad that you have a shelter at all and hot holed up in Civil Confinement.

      • I do not agree I know a friend that had a special stipulation condition un lawfully and un fairly in 2016 now (she) has done 4 yrs for a parole revocation the stipulation was to stay away from me because of a felony stemming back 21 years ago now recently nys parole law states ” a parolee cannot be in concert of a person who is involved in illegal activity” which seems more practical. But peekskill and albany board of appeals fail to remove this stipulation which makes it extremely difficult for us to be together and for her, who only committed this crime once to gain her liberty after respectfully serving her time as a model prisoner, and parolee. This has to stop! Peekskill parole seems to not acknowledge or respect the new revised law, what can we do! This is kidnapping and worst abuse of authority!

  4. I have a family member that was granted parole in 2016 or 2017 and can’t get out cause he doesn’t have where to go and is still treated still just like an inmate and because of the rules is still waiting to be released

    • The NYS DOCS can legally hold any sex offender to MAXIMUM EXPIRATION of sentence. This usually occurs if the offender fails to obtain a verifiable and approved residence not near a school, day care center or public park. In the NYC area, finding housing 1000 feet away from such places is nearly impossible. Call it the proverbial catch 22…. After max sentence has expired, the Attorney General can make motion for Civil Confinement hearing. At that time the Board of Sex Offender therapists will review the detainee to ascertain if a deviant abnormality exists. This is done by various advanced scientific tests to include a chemical cat scan of the brain under specific stimuli. If the “pleasure center” lights up on the scan, then there is a problem…. Also the offender will be shown child pornography and given a Plethysmograph (electrode to the penis) to note any organ size changes during the test. This test will confirm if such negative sexual though patterns exist. Yes, it is tough for person with a genuine problem to pass.

      These laws were enacted to protect society and are only going to get more restrictive as time passes…. So to find a bleeding heart liberal lawyer to defend this type of offender is very hard. Remember lawyers must uphold their reputations in the public eye.

    • If a person is sentenced to say 8 1/3 to 25 years for a class B felony, How much time does he or she really have? Is it 8 1/3? Or is it 16 2/3 — the conditional release date? None. It is 25 years. NYC can legally hold any sex offender for the max sentence “if the feel” it is warranted. After the max is completed, it enters a gray area and politics play a big role. I agree that once ANY inmate completes his or her max sentence, release should be granted. The problem is that in society — other that friends and family — few can care less about a sex offender. In fact, the general feeling is “lock them up for good” So when sex offenders are illegally detained, it becomes a long up hill battle for release. It is just the way it is. This is one crime you don’t want to be convicted of.

      • I agree especially in the state if newyork, they’ll never let you live your rightful normal life, and when you do get a chance it’s impossible for you to be mentally normal again… they make mental illness worst

  5. my son is currently doing a 90 day diversion program in Attica NY. His release date is June 13 2018,however,I was informed today that he will be sent to Fishskill to a RTF where he will still be locked up for an unknown amount of time.It was requested that he seek services in NYC-,he’s being denied these services instead it seems it’s easier to railroad inmates from one jail to another,which in my opinion is a waste of time and money.All the money it takes to house a inmate would be better spent for some real help.Sex-offenders still have human rights and should be allowed to work and live somewhere besides JAIL.

  6. I have a client in the shelter system for 10 years and cannot find housing because he is labeled as SO. He has paid his dues to the prison system and need a second chance in the community. They are free from PHYSICAL JAIL BUT NO MENTAL JAIL AND TO BE ABLE TO LIVE IN A REASONABLE COMMUNITY. where is the housing the the government is creating for the with our tax Dallas?

  7. My son will be “maxing out as they call it. I spoke to his counselor in Prison. Read the NYS DOCC of what happens if you do your maximum sentence. That you should not have to do any parole or conditional release. His counselor a Mr. Lumis , at Mid-State Correctional Facility in Marcy New York stated he still had 10 years of supervision, “but it is not Parole, But he will have to report to a Parole officer.” I replied that is very confusing because that is not what your DOCC website states. Then my son called me a week later and stated he has 88 days to the end of his Max sentence ; and he received paperwork from a random C.O., not his Counselor stating he was signed up for a RTF for a precaution , just in case his addresses he submits are considered unacceptable. This to me sounds like exactly what they are doing to these other inmates stated in this article. He has not even finished his time and they are already trying to railroad him. HOW CAN I STOP THIS.

  8. My son was suppose to come home a month ago after doing two years for a violation (for having a smart phone) he was doing really good had a job, doing his programs trying to get his life together after doing 9 years. He has been in there since he was 18. Has not celebrated a birthday in 11 years. He has done his time now the post release is killing him. Parole won’t release him due to the Sara compliance laws, I found him a place where it’s half way decent and their telling me it’s 887 feet away from the school but google says otherwise they use a different tool. It’s the 2nd residence I found and it seems like Parole is against everything, the first place I found Parole talk to the land lord and told him a whole lot of things that was not true and scared the land lord so he backed out. The second landlord he tried the same thing but she said she didn’t care what the charge was as long as the rent was paid but that’s not what he wanted to hear so he proceeded to the distance of the school. This is unfair and inhuman to be treated like this. My son is slowly giving up on himself, me and the system and I feel like there is no one to turn to. Every persons situation is different.

  9. if one is incarcerated in illinois and wants to live back home in florida who helps SO with a place to live DOES ANYONE KNOW PLEASE ive been trying for the past year to find him a place he can get out now but we cant find him a place that will take him hes stuck in prison until he can this is so unfair can anyone direct me to somewhere that WILL help

  10. With regards to those parents and their loved ones still locked up. I would like to say that I myself have just been released three weeks ago after doing eight months in a RTF. I had maxed out on my sentence last year after doing seven years. My family did everything that they could to help get me out. The counselors aren’t able to do anything. The parole officer is the one who is suppose to be looking for housing. As of right now I am in a men’s shelter with two day cares and an elementary school less than a thousand feet away. It is a fact that those who commit a sex offense and do state time ever repeat the same crime. The recidivism rate for those who commit s.o. and leave state prison to those with any other crime are the lowest. My time in RTF was miserable. I gained weight from stressing out. There were times I had suicidal ideations. I had run into problems with c.o. Even witnessed c.o.s. letting other inmates know who was a s.o. and what their crime was. What I’ve learned is that no matter if you committed any crime, no matter if there is a restriction of 10 miles from a school. If someone wants to commit a crime they will. But most s.o. never go back for the same crime after a state bid and it is proven by numbers. Yet the politicians ignore it. The news instills fear into the public and the public demands more restrictions, and the politicians feed off the ignorance of the public for their personal gain. At the end of the day who really is the criminal. Also I would like to note that while is was in Fishkill C.F. in RTF there were guys that were going on 2-3 years passed there max date in RTF. If something happens to anyone in RTF(since they are housed with general population). The state will be highly reliable. As sad as it might be I think it will take that to get a change. One last thing. The rule on 1000 ft is ridiculous. It is extremely hard to find a place with that much distance between a residence and a school. We’re on Long Island or the City people. SCHOOLS ARE EVERYWHERE!!! These politicians need to cut it down by half. Anyone who comes out of prison with the mind set to wanting to do better should have that chance. It’s hard out here for me, but I have family and friends support. Even that sometimes isnt enough. But I need to keep looking forward and continue to strive for a better life.

    • My son is to be released but parole denied him to come to the only home that he ever know but right now I am looking for please for my son to lay his head down can someone please help me I have trying on my own I really need my son home.

  11. My name is Robyn im trying to help my kids father get released he was suppose to be out but he needs a place to get released to an lay his head
    I’VE BEEN TRYING ON MY OWN and its not working can someone help

  12. My nephew paid 2 yrs with right to leave the jail now in October 3rd, 2021. He can’t go to live with any family member, he get a nice place to live with a friend that had no criminal record, work hard and have place to help him to live until the parole yrs ended, and they denied the place with not explanation and put him in a shelter list that can take more than 2 yrs. I know that every case is different, but when a person really repent and pay for what he/she did, they need a second chance. There is no shelters available in NY for sex offenders ex convict.

  13. My brother paid 11 yrs with right to leave the jail now in April 19, 2022. He can’t go to live with any family member. I know that every case is different, but when a person really repent and pay for what he/she did, they need a second chance. There is no shelters available in NY for sex offenders ex convict.

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