May 19, 2021 - Restorative Action Alliance, Inc. (RAA), a nonprofit organization seeking to build safer communities through the prevention of sexual harm while safeguarding the civil liberties and restoration of all people, is happy to announce that it has filed an amicus curiae brief in support of New York Legal Aid Society's request for a Writ of Certiorari from the U.S. Supreme Court in Ortiz v. Breslin.
The brief, authored by attorney, Jill Sanders, argues that New York prison officials with the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS) have been imposing extra-judicial terms of incarceration on persons who have completed their prison sentences for sexual offenses, and that these individuals have been singled out by the policy because they are indigent, homeless and subject to a housing restriction. The policy limits the number of releases of such individuals to just ten per month, forcing those that remain to languish in continued confinement until they are eventually released.
Despite years of litigation, the state's prison authorities have continued the harmful policy, resulting in years lost to those affected. In the submission, RAA asks the court to grant Mr. Ortiz's petition due to their strongly held belief that no one who has served their time should be held in prison indefinitely simply because they are indigent and in need of housing.
The brief outlines the experiences of individuals and their families affected by the issue, painting a clear picture of the trauma and uncertainty caused by this unconstitutional practice.
"We believe that in order to end cycles of sexual harm, we must not condone state violence against those who have committed harm or been convicted of a sexual offense," said Restorative Action Alliance Executive Director, Amber Vlangas, "Individuals who have served their sentences must be treated with dignity and provided with opportunities for meaningful accountability, trauma-informed care, and positive reentry services. We will not accept injustice against others as justice for survivors."
The Alliance believes that the issues presented in this case are of paramount importance to its membership, those required to register in the state of New York, and on public registries throughout the United States, as well as their families and communities.
The members of the Restorative Action Alliance are very appreciative of RAA Litigation Team Leader, attorney Jill Sanders & RAA Advisory Council Member & Executive Director of ACSOL, attorney Janice Bellucci, for their leadership and expertise through the process. We also express a heartfelt thanks to those who so vulnerably shared their lived experience with the team for the brief.
UPDATE: Tuesday, February 22, 2022
On Tuesday, February 22, 2022, the US Supreme Court denied Mr. Ortiz’s petition for a writ of certiorari. As such, the country’s highest court will not review his case, and the New York Court of Appeals decision still stands. The Supreme Court’s decision is available at https://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/21pdf/20-7846_j5fl.pdf.
Since 2014, the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS) has been imposing extra-judicial terms of incarceration on persons who have completed their prison sentences for sexual offenses. These individuals have been singled out by DOCCS’ policy because they have asked for services from the New York City’s Department of Homeless Services (DHS). They are indigent, homeless, and subject to a housing restriction due to their status on the state’s Sex Offender Registry. Despite years of litigation, DOCCS and DHS have continued the harmful policy, resulting in years lost to those affected. As argued by attorneys from New York City’s Legal Aid Society, and supported in an amicus curiae brief by Restorative Action Alliance, such a policy results in the deprivation of constitutional rights of those affected.
Yet the denial of Mr. Ortiz’s petition to the Supreme Court should not be considered a loss. Justice Sonia Sotomayor issued a six-page opinion, indicating that the situation created by DOCCS and DHS raises serious constitutional concerns. Justice Sotomayor said such a policy “requires indefinite incarceration for some indigent people judged to be sex offenders.” Moreover, Justice Sotomayor questions whether residency restrictions would pass rational basis scrutiny, citing to research, case law, and even law enforcement in acknowledging that such restrictions do not reduce recidivism and could actually increase the likelihood of reoffending.
Justice Sotomayor continued, “Despite the empirical evidence, legislatures and agencies are often not receptive to the plight of people convicted of sex offenses and their struggles in returning to their communities. Nevertheless, the Constitution protects all people, and it prohibits the deprivation of liberty based solely on speculation and fear. … Because of the grave importance of these issues and the frequency with which they arise, it seems only a matter of time until this Court will come to address the question presented in this case.”
Justice Sotomayor stated that New York should not wait for the courts to step in, and instead called on the state to “reevaluate its policy in a manner that gives due regard to the constitutional liberty interests of people like Ortiz.” Restorative Action Alliance joins in that call to end this harmful policy. No one who has served their time should be held in prison indefinitely simply because they are indigent and in need of housing.
“We are encouraged that Justice Sotomayor recognizes that New York is violating the constitutional rights of its citizens,” said Jill K. Sanders, Litigation Team Leader at Restorative Action Alliance. “While we’re disappointed that the Supreme Court won’t take the case, Restorative Action Alliance will continue to advocate for those who are affected by this unconstitutional and illegal state action.”
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