ACLU Reaches Settlement Prohibiting Discrimination Against Sex Offenders at Homeless Shelters

Thursday, December 06, 2018


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RI ACLU's Steve Brown

The ACLU of RI announced on Wednesday the settlement of a lawsuit that will prohibit shelters operating on State property from turning away homeless Rhode Islanders seeking shelter even though beds are available -- including sex offenders.

The settlement ended a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court by ACLU volunteer attorneys Lynette Labinger and John MacDonald challenging a state law, that was to take effect last January specifically aimed at Harrington Hall in Cranston, which limited the number of registered sex offenders that could stay there to 10% of the shelter’s population, which amounts to 11 people.  

"This law had been scheduled to take effect on what turned out to be one of the coldest days of the year this past January," said Steven Brown, executive director of the ACLU of RI. 'We are pleased that we were able to get this suit resolved just as winter returns so that individuals don’t have to face the cruel prospect of being turned out into the cold for no legitimate reason.”

More about Lawsuit -- and Settlement

The lawsuit called Harrington Hall “the shelter of last resort for male homeless registered sex offenders in Rhode Island, whose only other option is to sleep or camp on the streets,” and noted that the facility “routinely provided overnight shelter to many more than 11 registered sex offenders” without experiencing “any increase or experience of re-offenses.” 

According to the ACLU, the following points were made: 

* Increasing homelessness and transience of this population would only “make it more difficult for law enforcement officials to monitor” them, 

* By forcing them into transience, “the 10% Restriction increases their lack of stability and access to community and services, increasing the risk to public safety and the risk of re-offense and recidivism,” and, most urgently,  

* Forcing them into “unsheltered homelessness, particularly during the winter months, imposes life-threatening conditions upon the Plaintiffs.” 

After meeting with federal court Chief Judge William Smith last January, the State agreed to put the requirement on hold during the litigation.  

Under the settlement agreement filed today, the parties agreed that, in implementing the statute, shelter providers will not be deemed to have exceeded the limitations so long as the shelter operator reports to the local police the names of the individuals being housed overnight and that available alternative shelters or housing for the individuals were explored. Harrington Hall, run by Crossroads Rhode Island, has followed this practice throughout the pendency of the litigation. 


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