Missouri officials admitted that the state’s parole revocation procedures were unconstitutional two years ago and claimed that it corrected them. But these procedures still violate constitutional and civil rights, according to a recent court decision. A federal district court judge ruled earlier this month that the state must correct its parole system.

Class action lawsuit

Each year, Missouri’s parole board revokes the parole of thousands of individuals. Often, parolees are not informed of their right to an attorney and no legal representation is provided to them.

Many parolees were sent back to prison for technical parole violations like crossing a state line, missing parole appointments, or losing their job because their employer learned about their criminal record. Other paroles claimed that they were pressured to waive their parole hearings or never received evidence of their alleged parole violations before hearing.

The MacArthur Justice Center in St. Louis filed a class action lawsuit on behalf of parolees against the Missouri department of corrections and its probation and parole division in 2017. They charged that the state deliberately ignored U.S. Supreme Court rulings setting forth procedures protecting parolees’ due process rights.

A hearing was conducted in June. The corrections department argued that it had already remedied the correctional deficiencies that were acknowledged.

Judge’s ruling

The judge found that even though the state claimed that paroles are informed of their right to counsel, no more than 15 percent of surveyed paroles said they received this information.

He also recognized the state revised its procedures. But the rate of preliminary hearings that were conducted is 2.4 percent and the rate for revocation hearings was only 2.2 percent.

His order contained a lengthy list of mandated and recommended practices to fix the problems he found. He ordered that the corrections department assure that eligible parolees have legal counsel, make screening process improvements, furnish evidence at least five days before revocation hearings and issue written notification of its revocation decisions to parolees.

The co-director of the MacArthur Center said that the reforms will hopefully mean that fewer people are returning to prison. This is especially important for preventing the spread of COVID-19 in Missouri’s prisons and surrounding communities.

The criminal justice system may be complicated, and you may inadvertently lose rights.  An attorney can help assure that your rights are protected and seek a reasonable resolution of charges.