Judge finds Missouri still treating parolees unconstitutionally

By The Associated Press

KANSAS CITY (AP) – A federal judge this week ruled Missouri is still unconstitutionally sending parolees back to prison, despite the state’s claims that it fixed systemic issues following a 2017 lawsuit.

Now U.S. District Judge Stephen Bough is ordering Missouri to take action, Kansas City's KCUR-FM reported Friday.

At issue is how Missouri’s parole board often sends parolees to prison without providing them a lawyer or informing them of their right to counsel in violation of their due process rights.

The board has imprisoned people over missed parole appointments or being fired after an employer finds out about the worker’s criminal history.

Parolees filed a class-action lawsuit in 2017, and the state's prison system said it fixed systemic problems. In an order, Bough wrote that the state has made “significant changes" in its policies for revoking parole. But he said in many cases those changes weren't being applied in practice.

For example, no more than 15% of 470 surveyed parolees reported they were informed of their right to counsel, Bough wrote. Some parolees said they were pressured to waive their parole hearings or were not provided with evidence of their alleged parole violations.

“Even after Defendants revised their policies, the rate of preliminary hearings conducted is 2.4% and the rate of revocation hearings conducted is 2.2%,” Bough wrote.

Bough ordered the corrections department to ensure that eligible parolees have an attorney, provide evidence at least five days before revocation hearings, and provide parolees with written notification of its revocation decisions.

A spokeswoman for the corrections department told KCUR that the agency was still reviewing the order and didn't immediately comment on it.

“Our hope is that the reforms that are required are going to mean that fewer people are going back behind bars, are going to mean that the prison churn will slow down and that’s always important, but especially now more than ever,” said Amy Breihan, co-director of the MacArthur Justice Center in St. Louis, which filed the lawsuit on behalf of parolees.