Testimony for the Sex Offenses and Sex Offender Registration Task Force

The John Howard Association of Illinois (JHA) provides citizen oversight of the state’s correctional policies and practices, and works for criminal justice reforms to create a fair, effective, and humane system.

JHA has long urged Illinois to revisit the effectiveness of our sex offender management laws and address barriers to reentry. These issues were stressed in JHA’s 2013 report on the Illinois Department of Corrections (IDOC) facility Big Muddy River Correctional Center, where more than 50% of the population, nearly 1,000 men, are identified as sex offenders, including the civilly committed Sexually Dangerous Persons (SDP) population.[1]

As JHA continually visits facilities and receives letters from incarcerated individuals, we are witness to problematic reentry situations that are becoming even more dire as the effects of unreasonably restrictive laws pertaining to sex offenses come to fruition and retroactive registry requirements triggered by non-sex offense convictions broaden the net and ensnare more individuals in the difficulty of finding places to live. We stress the need for meaningful change. Changes to registration requirements alone will not fix issues relating to other legislated requirements that dictate conditions and related lack of reentry housing for people identified as sex offenders.

While JHA fully supports the Task Force’s draft recommendations,[2] there will continue to be individuals accumulating needlessly within our prisons without posing further recommendations for changes to laws to address terms of three years to life Mandatory Supervised Release (MSR), or parole, and MSR conditions mandated by statute, including residency restrictions, particularly addressing the restriction of only one individual identified as a sex offender being housed per site and the lack of transitional housing. Without these changes, there will continue to be nowhere to release individuals who have served their custodial time and who meet all other parole requirements, no matter how low their risk level or how minimal the length or level of registration required.

1.  Background: Door Violations

During fiscal year 2016 (FY16), IDOC identified 1,309 individuals who were identified as sex offenders and at some point were “door violated,” meaning that they were denied parole on the basis of not having approved housing.[3] This number is more than enough to fill a prison. Host sites are required to meet myriad requirements and residency restrictions, such as being 500 feet or more[4] away from places where children congregate and having the capacity to accommodate electronic monitoring.[5] While some individuals who are door violated are released more quickly than others based on ability to obtain housing, approvable housing often depends on resources and many factors beyond an incarcerated person’s control. Additionally, many of the reasons for denying proposed parole housing for incarcerated people are legislated and beyond IDOC’s control.[6] Particularly onerous residency restrictions that are imposed by legislation and compound this problem are discussed below.

Door violations are included in IDOC recidivism data, creating a false impression that individuals convicted of sex offenses are committing parole violations, when in fact individuals with door violations have not actually done anything wrong to result in their parole revocation. This Task Force has heard evidence that individuals with sex offenses actually have relatively lower general recidivism. We also know that incarcerating people is far more expensive than supervising them on parole.

Keeping people in prison for door violations serves no rehabilitative purpose and does nothing to ease eventual transition to the community. Importantly, during incarceration almost no one who is identified as a sex offender has the opportunity to participate in any effective sex offender treatment. JHA also has advised increasing use of risk assessment, treatment staffing, and more data tracking and reporting for the few sex offender treatment programs that do exist within IDOC due to concerns regarding the ability of some individuals to participate in meaningful treatment where there may be lack of appropriate resourcing and individualization of treatment, or insufficient accommodations for those with disabilities.

Currently, less than 4% of 7,500+ individuals in IDOC identified as sex offenders,[7] about 273 men and ten women, receive sex offender specific treatment within IDOC. The vast majority of these 283 people who are receiving some treatment are the civilly committed SDPs, who are supposedly civilly committed for the express purpose of receiving treatment. The only sex offender treatment that is available in Illinois is located at the two prisons that house SDPs, Big Muddy River and Logan. The rest of those in treatment are voluntary participants with no assessed basis of treatment need, which we know is not the best way to provide treatment.[8] Further, even if risk assessment and treatment resources were drastically increased within IDOC, as is needed, the majority of treatment and ongoing risk assessment should be provided in the community,[9] where most individuals will return, in keeping with our State’s constitutional mandate to restore individuals convicted of crimes to useful citizenship.

The lack of housing meeting release conditions, resulting door violations, and number of individuals who remain untreated within IDOC custody, are issues that understandably frustrate incarcerated individuals and staff. The perceived lack of procedural justice creates difficulties for all involved and remains unresolved by courts to date. As stated in 2014 by the Illinois Supreme Court, “[i]t may turn out that the factors inherent in the statutory scheme that give rise to violations at the door are a matter for the legislature to address, rather than this court.”[10] We urge this Task Force to attempt to bring these issues proper legislative attention.

2.  Illinois must reconsider three years to life parole terms

Concerningly, of the 1,309 door violators reported in FY16, about one in 10, or 126, of these individuals have terms of three year to life MSR, meaning that they will not be released until they have approved housing, which may, under existing circumstances, never occur. The number of individuals with three years to life MSR is only expected to grow since the law was enacted in 2005 and these individuals continue to come up for parole.[11] During FY16, 475 individuals were reported to have entered or returned to IDOC custody with such parole terms.[12]

As discussed by this Task Force, there is no scientifically justifiable basis for lifetime registration, and the same reasoning holds true for lifetime parole supervision. We know the evidence about individuals aging out of criminal behavior and other important desistence patterns, and we have mechanisms to individualize and address the risk of reoffending without such costly and overreactive requirements. For example, in Illinois individuals can be civilly committed as SVPS. IDOC reviews every SVP-eligible individual prior to release, with the Attorney General’s office giving some individuals who are not recommended for civil commitment as SVPS a secondary review.[13]

Data from IDOC from December 31, 2016 shows 2,017, more than a forth of those identified as sex offenders, are over 50 years of age, which is considered elderly for prisoners, 106 of whom are SDPs.[14]Inmates labeled as sex offenders also account for more than a quarter, 25.5%, of the 7,916 elderly individuals in IDOC custody, who as a group represent a significantly more costly population with lower recidivism risk.[15]

3.  Illinois must roll back residency restrictions and permit housing of more than one individual with a sex offense per site and provide transitional housing

In contrast to those with three-years-to-life MSR, individuals with door violations or lack of approved host sites with definite MSR terms may serve a portion of their MSR term in custody and then be released without supervision. Many in law enforcement comment on the folly of having individuals serve their supervision time inside prisons because they cannot locate housing that complies with MSR conditions, only to have the individual released back into the community without support or any supervision.[16] Lack of appropriate community reentry housing due to residency restrictions creates such unintended consequences, leaving communities less secure. This Task Force has heard testimony that residency restrictions do not make us safer, and in fact may have the opposite effect in increasing homelessness, joblessness, non-compliance, and even may deter crime reporting in common situations where victims know their offender, as in families.

The Illinois Conditions of Parole or MSR statute contains numerous problematic provisions,[17] perhaps the worst of which is the condition that no more than one individual identified as a sex offender can reside at the same address or in the same complex.[18] This provision does not apply to MSR placements in healthcare facilities, or IDOC licensed transitional housing facilities, of which there are currently none. There are zero beds in zero licensed transitional housing facilities for individuals identified as sex offenders in Illinois. If individuals are properly risk assessed, treated, and supervised there is no need for this rule to exist. Other states do not have this defeating prohibition of housing multiple people with sex offense convictions at one site. In fact, such an arrangement would on its face make supervision easier. This Task Force must address this substantial and nonsensical barrier.

Legislative fixes are needed to repeal the residency restriction limited to one individual per site or permit necessary modifications for transitional housing licensure. If no one outside of the government will provide transitional housing, perhaps rules need to be reconsidered so that IDOC or another government agency can assist with this need. First and foremost, people need supportive housing for successful transition. We urge the Task Force to address these issues.

JHA also supports revisions to other residency and presence restrictions, which serve no public safety purpose and harm individuals and families attempting to lead productive, law-abiding lives.

Lastly, in considering how Illinois must improve community resourcing, supports, and reintegration for persons convicted of sex offenses, this Task Force has an opportunity to consider whether maintaining a public registry is justified on any rational public safety basis. Undoubtedly the stigma perpetuated by the mythology surrounding the public registry taints sound policy-making. People do not want sex offender housing in their backyard, even though it would increase public safety to have people appropriately housed, treated and supervised. While law enforcement may have some legitimate use for a sex offender specific registry, and there are some members of the public with limited need to know, this Task Force has heard evidence that the public facing registry harms individuals without demonstrable payoff in terms of reducing re-offense. Illinois must take advantage of this opportunity to revisit these important issues with this Task Force, as courts across the country are continuing to recognize disproportionate harms to individuals and communities of unending ostracization.

[1] See http://thejha.org/sites/default/files/Big%20Muddy%20Correctional%20Center%20Report%202013.pdfThe minimum-security facility Taylorville also has a population where more than 50% of the incarcerated individuals are identified as sex offenders, but currently lacks any sex offender treatment programming. People convicted or found delinquent of a sex offense or attempt (including any felony found to be “sexually motivated”), or found to be a Sexually Dangerous or Sexually Violent Persons (SVP), or who are convicted of any equivalent offense outside of Illinois, will meet the “sex offender” definition. However, as noted by the Task Force, IDOC identifies people as sex offenders based on the registry and this is over-inclusive as it also includes individuals with non-sexually motivated murder convictions. This confusion should be addressed to better be able to assess data. The vast majority of incarcerated individuals identified as sex offenders within IDOC are male (7,472 of 7,571). About 176 individuals are civilly committed as SDPs, one of whom is female and housed at Logan. See IDOC FY16 Annual Report, p. 74, https://www.illinois.gov/idoc/reportsandstatistics/Documents/FY2016%20Annual%20Report.pdf.

[2] As set out in the Illinois Sex Offenses & Offender Registration Task Force meeting and June 9, 2016 memorandum, Policies for Discussion, https://soortf.icjia.cloud/static/documents/SOTaskForceJuneMeeting_PolicyDiscussion_20170614.pdf.

[3] Data pertaining to door violators was provided from IDOC to JHA on request.

[4] Municipalities also impose residency restrictions beyond what is required by state law and are considered in IDOC parole placement.

[5] Until recently access to the internet by other residents in a household was used to prohibit housing persons convicted of sex offenses in some cases. Thankfully, we have been informed that particular unworkable rule has been recently reconsidered.

[6] However, JHA continues to recommend adequate notice, greater transparency, and means for review or appeal for host site denials, as we commonly hear of discretionary denials that do not appear required by law. 

[7] Again, as IDOC identifies individuals based on registration status, this number is over-inclusive and include some individuals without a history of sex offenses. Individuals identified as sex offenders make up about a sixth, 16.9%, of the IDOC population. The current holding offenses included 4,802 individuals, 10.7%, with Sexual Assault/Rape convictions, and 1,084, 2.4%, with Sex Related Offense convictions, and there were 176 individuals civilly committed as SDPs (this number has increased from 144 in 2003). The parole population consists of 1,013 identified as sex offenders, or 3.6% of the parole population (with 601, 2.2% with committing offenses for Sexual Assault/Rape, 125, 0.5%, Sex Related Offense, and 15 SDPs). About 450 of these individuals are on electronic monitoring for a minimum of one year and supervised by special Sex Offender Unit parole officers. See IDOC FY16 Annual Report, p. 74 and 77, https://www.illinois.gov/idoc/reportsandstatistics/Documents/FY2016%20Annual%20Report.pdf.

[8] This Task Force has heard evidence for the need to individualize our response to sexual offending. Different recidivism reduction strategies are needed for different types of sexual offenses. Limited treatment should not be directed at low-risk subjects. Treatment and supervision resources are best directed at high-risk individuals.

[9] While individuals must comply with registry requirements, the majority of registrants are no longer under probation or parole supervision.

[10] See, Codrey v. Prisoner Review Board, 2014 IL 117155, Opinion, November 20, 2014, http://www.illinoiscourts.gov/opinions/supremecourt/2014/117155.pdf.

[11] See the July 10, 2005 press release from the office of Governor Blagojevich, “Governor signs law requiring lifetime supervision for most dangerous sex offenders,” http://www.idph.state.il.us/public/press05/7.10.05.htm.

[12] We were not provided with information requested for the number of individuals on parole with this term of MSR, but recommend that this information, as well as the number in custody, be tracked and publicly reported.

[13] Reportedly IDOC reviewed about 1,800 in a year. As of January 2017, the Illinois Department of Human Services (DHS) Rushville mental health facility housed 574 people who are either civilly committed, or awaiting hearings to determine commitment, as Sexually Violent Persons (SVPs). This number is up from 210 in 2003. See Crepeau, Megan, “Hearing today on whether ex-priest who molested boys should be locked up indefinitely,” Chicago Tribune, September 6, 2017, http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/breaking/ct-ex-priest-daniel-mccormack-sexually-violent-hearing-met-20170902-story.html.

[14] About 61% of the SDP population is currently considered elderly. See IDOC Inmates 50 Years of Age and Older as of December 31, 2016, https://www.illinois.gov/idoc/reportsandstatistics/Documents/50+_Fact_Sheet_12%2031%2016.pdf.

[15] Although aging alone is a desistence factor, more individualized information, such as length of time since offense, is also needed for reliable assessment.

[16] For more background on this issue, see Twohey, Megan, “St. Leonard closes doors to sex offenders,” Chicago Tribune, December 6, 2009, http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2009-12-06/news/0912050317_1_offenders-halfway-nursing-homes, (“There is no longer is a licensed halfway home for sex offenders in northern Illinois … Many halfway homes that once housed sex offenders closed because they could not meet the new licensing requirements, such as 24-hour security, or because of community opposition.” This article also notes that as of publication only Another Chance Ministries in East St. Louis accepted individuals identified as sex offenders.). See also,  Twohey, Megan, “Sex offender housing restrictions may lead to more crimes,” Chicago Tribune, April 9, 2010, http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2010-04-09/news/ct-met-sex-offender-housing-20100408_1_offenders-parole-housing-restrictions, which states that the number of transitional housing beds has dropped from more than 200 to 26 in East St. Louis between 2005 and 2010. The East St. Louis facility ceased housing individuals identified as sex offenders sometime in the last few years.

[17] Including, e.g., that individuals identified as sex offenders may not have under their control any material that even alludes to sexual activity. See 730 ILCS 5/3-3-7.

[18] See 730 ILCS 5/3-3-7(a)(7.6). From what we can gather, the origin of this law was the sentiment that impoverished neighborhoods were bearing the brunt of housing numerous individuals with sex offenses to the exclusion of more affluent neighborhoods.

Allie Kelly2017