OAD Joins Fifteen Prominent Indigent Defense and Advocacy Organizations to Oppose Gov. Cuomo's Budget Amendment as Illegal and Ineffective

Cuomo’s Budget Amendment Undermines Public Safety and Rehabilitation

[New York, NY; March 12, 2018 – ] Today, the Office of the Appellate Defender (OAD) joined fifteen prominent advocacy and indigent defense organizations to oppose Governor Cuomo’s proposed amendment to the 2019 budget, imposing additional restrictions on people required to register under the Sex Offender Registration Act (SORA).  Specifically, OAD delivered a letter to Gov. Cuomo explaining that his proposal to broaden New York’s already sweeping residence and movement restrictions is expensive, undermines public safety, and constitutes a contemporary form of banishment.

“It’s hard to believe that we are debating banishment as an acceptable public safety measure in 2018,” said Christina Swarns, President and Attorney-in-Charge of OAD.  “This conversation is particularly absurd given the overwhelming evidence that people convicted of sex offenses are more likely to re-offend when isolated and denied medical, social and economic supports.  Banishment is a punishment that should remain in the dustbin of history.”

Executive Law § 259-c(14) prohibits people convicted of certain sex offenses – including crimes against children – from setting foot within 1,000 feet of school grounds while on parole or post-release supervision. This restriction has made most of New York City and large parts of the rest of the State inaccessible to hundreds of people attempting to reintegrate into society after a prison sentence. Gov. Cuomo’s proposed amendment expands the definition of “school grounds” for people convicted of crimes against children under the age of thirteen to include pre-kindergarten and kindergarten facilities and thereby renders even more of New York City and the State off-limits to those individuals. Furthermore, Gov. Cuomo’s proposed addition to Social Services Law § 131-y prohibits social services officials from placing people classified as a moderate or high risk of re-offense under SORA – including those who have completed their sentence and those who were not convicted of offenses against children – in any temporary emergency housing or homeless shelters used to house families with children.  In New York, people convicted of sex offenses are now routinely held in prison long past their release dates solely because of the unavailability of housing that satisfies the impossible restrictions already in place.  Gov. Cuomo’s proposed amendment exacerbates this already dire situation.

“Throughout our country’s history, the worst laws and policies have been driven by fear and hysteria, rather than evidence,” said David Cole, National Legal Director of the American Civil Liberties Union.  “The draconian banishment of people convicted of a broad category of sex offenses is an unfortunate extension of this ignoble past.  New York can and should do better.” 

Research – including by the United States Department of Justice – shows that residency restrictions do not improve public safety or reduce sex offender recidivism. Contrary to popular perception, the recidivism rates of people convicted of sex crimes are relatively low, and the vast majority of sex crimes are committed by someone the victim already knows. Moreover, laws and policies that isolate sex offenders and deny them access to employment, family, and social services increase the risk of re-offending.