CHICAGO — A lawsuit has been filed accusing the state of Illinois of violating the rights of convicted sex offenders by maintaining policies that do not allow a number of them to be released from prison after they have served their sentences, effectively leaving them informally sentenced to life in prison.
Seven plaintiffs have filed the lawsuit in Chicago federal court, saying they have been unjustly imprisoned after state officials determined they are unable to be released under the state's Mandatory Supervised Release (MSR) policies, which require the offenders to live in certain state-approved housing. The seven plaintiffs are currently detained at the Taylorville, Pickneyville and Lincoln correction centers.
The plaintiffs alleged the MSR policies do not account for a lack of transitional housing in Illinois that will accept sex offenders and a lack of housing specifically for sex offenders. Homeless shelters also will not accept convicted sex offenders, and unless the parolees have the money to pay for housing or someone outside of prison can take them in or pay for their housing, they will not be released.
The plaintiffs have named Ill. Attorney General Lisa Madigan and the director of the Illinois Department of Corrections, John Baldwin, as the defendants in the suit filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois.
“All of our clients are just looking for a pass to get out of prison on supervised release, which is what they were sentenced," said attorney Adele Nicholas, who is representing the plaintiffs in the action. "They were not sentenced to be locked up for life."
According to the filing, convicted sex offenders who have been sentenced to a definitive MSR time can serve that time in prison and then be released without supervision, but those who were not sentenced with a specified MSR time may never be released.
“When people receive an indeterminate sentence, meaning it’s a three-to-life term of Mandatory Supervised Release, they can never max out that time. They could remain in prison for the rest of their life and never receive credit for having served their MSR time, and they can never terminate their MSR,” Nicholas said.
About 4,000 inmates are serving time for sex-related offenses in Illinois, according to court documents.
The plaintiffs are seeking injunctive relief, alleging violations of rights under the Eighth and 14th amendments to the U.S. Constitution.
Nicholas said the plaintiffs decided to go the legal route in their quest for change because they didn’t see any political way to change the system.
“There is not really any political will to change the laws regulating where people deemed sex offenders are allowed to live. In fact, the regulations get stricter and stricter as time goes on and more and more burdensome,” she said. “We don’t really see a solution forthcoming from the legislative angle, which is why we had to file a lawsuit.”
She said they were seeking a reform of the current system and hoped that a federal judge would issue a rule that the system is dysfunctional and deprives some individuals of their constitutional rights.
“We have not sought monetary damages on behalf of our clients because their priority is really getting this system reformed so that they can seek their release from prison,” Nicholas said.