"For Illinois Sex Offenders, Six Years Can Turn Into Life In Prison

"by Max Green – WBEZ NewsNovember 13, 2017

J.D. Lindenmeier completed his six-year prison sentence in 2011, but he hasn’t been released because he has nowhere to go. Inmates call these extra years behind bars “dead time.”

The Rockford native committed a sex crime, and in order to get out of prison he has to meet the state’s long list of rigid parole requirements for those convicted of predatory criminal sexual assault. He could remain behind bars for the rest of his life if he doesn’t find appropriate housing. For Lindenmeier, that means finding a place to live where, among other things, he is away from children and has no internet-accessible devices like smartphones and smart TVs.

Lindenmeier said he couldn’t afford his own apartment, so he turned to his family for help. But their living situations disqualified them under state law. He said his father lived too close to a park, his mother had a computer and smartphone, his sister had small children, and his dad’s girlfriend’s home was too close to a day care center. The rules even prohibit halfway houses from taking in sex offenders. So he remains behind bars, searching for a home.

And Lindenmeier isn’t alone. He’s part of a class-action lawsuit with other Illinois prisoners in similar situations, though the exact number of sex offenders who remain behind bars after their sentence is unknown. That’s because the Illinois Department of Corrections doesn’t track that information, according to IDOC spokeswoman Dede Short.

When it comes to releasing sex offenders, Illinois has some of the strictest restrictions in the country, said Melissa Hamilton, a senior lecturer of law and criminal justice at the University of Surrey’s School of Law in England. Former state Rep. Elaine Nekritz said that’s because lawmakers want to appear tough on crime.

But Hamilton noted that sex offenders are much less likely to re-offend than most other criminals. For those sex offenders stuck in prison, the laws have left them questioning when they have served their time. But the laws have also created a situation where Illinois residents must weigh the cost of keeping sex offenders out of their neighborhood. It costs about $22,000 per year to house an inmate in Illinois. In keeping Lindenmeier locked for six years past his sentence the state could have spent more than $100,000.

An infinite sentence

Under current Illinois laws, parole for certain sex offenders doesn’t start until they find adequate housing. Only then will a parole board re-evaluate offenders and decide when parole should end. But that wasn’t always the case.

Prior to a 2012 Illinois Supreme Court ruling, a sex offender who couldn’t find compliant housing would serve their parole in prison. Once the term of parole was complete, the prisoner would be released.

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