Up to 15,000 paroled inmates who were sent back to jail for parole violations could be eligible for relief after a federal judge certified as a class action a lawsuit that argues the inmates were re-incarcerated without hearings or legal representation.
The certification of the case as a class action by U.S. District Judge Stephen Bough puts pressure on the state to resolve the lawsuit, which was filed in 2017 by the MacArthur Justice Center in St. Louis, KCUR reported . The center argues the state's corrections department and its Division of Probation and Parole ignored U.S. Supreme Court decisions establishing procedures to protect parolees' due process rights.
"These cases have been around since the'70s, so there's really no excuse for Missouri being this behind the times in providing these constitutional rights to parolees," said Amy Breihan, director of the McArthur Justice Center's Missouri office.
The Missouri Attorney General's Office will not comment on ongoing litigation, spokesman Drew Dziedzic said.
Digital Access For Only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
Breihan said many parolees have been re-incarcerated for technical violations such as crossing the state line — like going from Missouri to Kansas to work.
"They're most often for those kinds of alleged violations and not for committing other crimes," she said.
In 2017, about 6,600 parolees went through the revocation process, Breihan said, "and of those, at least 90 percent had their parole revoked and were sent back to prison."
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the early 1970s that parole revocation hearings trigger certain minimum due process requirements, including a preliminary hearing and a formal revocation hearing.
Breihan said many of the parolees being re-incarcerated without due process have mental health or addiction issues that aren't being addressed.
"They're just being re-incarcerated and their lives and their communities are continually disrupted," she said. "It's not a central focus of the case, but I think it's important to think about why these folks are being sent back to prison and how it is impacting their lives and their ability get back on steady ground."