Court Untangles Offender-Housing Headache

     ALBANY, N.Y. (CN) – New York’s appellate division rapped the state Department of Corrections for making a sexually violent offender spend eight more months behind bars after he completed his sentence because he could not find suitable housing or an approved treatment center.
     “We are mindful that the dilemma presented is no doubt a consequence of the difficulty in finding acceptable housing for sex offenders,” Judge Michael Lynch wrote Thursday for a five-person panel of the Appellate Division’s Third Judicial Department.
     Though “public safety unquestionably remains the primary concern,” Lynch also emphasized the importance in reducing recidivism, an interest that is helped by providing offenders “with suitable housing and employment.”
     William Green, the former inmate who brought the issue to a head, has been out of prison for three months now, but Lynch said his case presented a significant issue that “will typically evade appellate review and is likely to recur given the prevalence of mental health issues among the state’s prison population and the recognized difficulty in securing acceptable housing for risk level III sex offenders.
     Sullivan Correctional Facility, a maximum security prison, officially released Green on Feb. 17, 2015, but Green was forced to remain behind bars because he could not find a place to live.
     Having been convicted of attempted sexual abuse, endangering a child, and two counts of unlawful imprisonment, Green is classified in New York as a high-level sex offender, required to find housing at least 1,000 feet away from any schools and to permanently register in the state’s public directory.
     The prison did not release Green to an approved residence until after the Sullivan County Supreme Court ordered that Green receive assisted-outpatient treatment.
     Green, a level-III risk, is considered a high risk of repeat offense and a threat to public safety.
     Though the court had Green moved, it denied his habeas petition, citing Green’s failure to secure suitable housing.
     As to why the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS) did not transfer to a residential treatment facility, the lower court said such a transfer depended upon pending medical clearance by the Office of Mental Health.
     In explaining its hold on Green, the DOCCS told the court that it never completed Green’s transfer to a residential treatment center called Woodbourne Correctional Facility because the facility could not handle Green’s “mental health needs.”
     The appeals court found Thursday that Green should have been placed at Mid-State Correctional Facility, which is considered a holding treatment facility for parolees.
     The court saw “no convincing authority” for failing to transfer Green to either approved residence or to a treatment facility when his sentence expired.
     “Accordingly, we reiterate that, although petitioner is obligated to identify suitable housing, DOCCS remains statutorily obligated to assist in the process,” the ruling concludes.

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