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LTE: When a Prison Sentence Ends, But Not Imprisonment

In a letter to the editor of The New York Times, Will A. Page, a staff attorney with The Legal Aid Society’s Criminal Appeals Bureau, makes the case against continuing to incarcerate New Yorkers who have served their time but cannot find housing that meets the requirement for their release.

Page is the attorney for Angel Ortiz, who served an extra 25 months in prison because he was unable to find suitable housing. Mr. Ortiz wanted to rejoin his family in New York City, however, his designation as a sex offender prohibited him from living within 1000 feet of a school. Mr. Ortiz’s offender status stems from a robbery conviction during which he is alleged to have made a sexual threat, but becuase of that status finding housing was nearly impossible. Page appealed Ortiz’s case all the way to the Supreme Court.

“I, like many of my public defender colleagues, continue to challenge the imprisonment of people for years beyond their release dates simply because they are poor and trapped by residency restrictions that do not increase public safety,” he writes.

“Another troubling aspect of this problem is that in New York City, the state actively prevents these individuals from gaining access to shelter,” Page continued. “The city is required to provide compliant housing to anyone in need, but he or she must be released from prison to request it. Thus, hundreds remain incarcerated (at a yearly cost of $21 million) when they should be free.”

Although the high court declined to hear Mr. Ortiz’s case, Justice Sotomayor voiced her concern that “New York’s policy requires indefinite incarceration for some indigent people judged to be sex offenders.”

Read the full letter here.