Restorative Action Alliance (RAA) applauds the brave plaintiffs and legal professionals of the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) who have recently brought a class action lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of New York Executive Law § 259-c (14), known as “SARA.” This banishment law affects thousands of individuals with certain sex offense convictions preventing them from being in proximity to restaurants, stores, parking lots and other spaces that are within 1,000 feet of a school. The Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (“DOCCS”) also applies SARA to prohibit affected individuals from residing within 1,000 feet of the property line of a school. 

The lawsuit, filed in the United States District Court Southern District of New York seeks to overturn the 25-year old law on 14th Amendment grounds; arguing that it is overly broad, vague, inconsistently applied and enforced, and "disastrous to rehabilitation and unhelpful for crime prevention".

As Restorative Action Alliance outlined in an amicus brief submitted to the Supreme Court in 2021 the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS) often holds people in prison past their release dates, transfers them to Residential Treatment Facilities (RTFs), or forces them into homelessness if they are unable to obtain SARA Compliant housing. According to NYCLU analysis conducted in 2020, in New York City, 84% of residential units are restricted by SARA. In Buffalo, SARA restrictions cover 56.7% of residential parcels and 90.9% of hospital and health facilities.

“Banishment is not an appropriate way for our society to treat formerly incarcerated individuals. The Constitution requires that people convicted of sexual offenses are treated with human dignity and are not subjected to unnecessary, vague and expansive restrictions that hinder their ability to reintegrate into society,” said Daniel Lambright, senior staff attorney at the New York Civil Liberties Union. “Research shows that banishment laws like SARA do not reduce recidivism, but instead make it impossible to obtain jobs, find housing, and become productive members of their communities. Laws that undermine rehabilitation make our communities less safe and must be abolished.”

Members of Restorative Action Alliance regularly report that the application of SARA is often dependent on the interpretation of a person's supervising officer, and applies to a variety of locations due to their proximity to places that serve or cater to children. In New York, 90 percent of hospitals, 91 percent of soup kitchens or food pantries, and 88 percent of public libraries are located within 1,000 feet of a school. This leaves those subject to these sanctions living in constant fear of re-incarceration, simply for accessing the services they need to survive.

“This lawsuit highlights the cruelty and uselessness of our sex offense laws,” said Emily Horowitz, a sociologist, and member of the Restorative Action Foundation board, who has spent nearly two decades researching and writing about sexual offense policies. “An indisputable body of social scientific research has documented geographic restrictions’ failure to reduce sexual recidivism and sexual offending. These laws, largely based on fears, myths, and obsolete data, publicly shame and create barriers to employment and housing, undermining successful re-entry. It is time for our courts to rely on accurate and current research so that those who have been held accountable have the opportunity to rebuild their lives.”

As an organization concerned with ending sexual violence while upholding the humanity and civil liberties of all people, Restorative Action Alliance is calling on the court to strike down this destabilizing law that does nothing to make us safer. It is counterproductive to expend resources on policies like SARA that perpetuate cycles of harm and prioritize punishment over what survivors report they truly need - things like direct financial support, therapeutic intervention and access to services.


Restorative Action Alliance