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Seventh Circuit: Former Parolee May Sue Over Delayed Release from Parole

On May 19, 2015, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals held that a former parolee may pursue an Eighth Amendment claim in a 42 U.S.C. § 1983 civil rights suit alleging a parole officer had intentionally delayed her release from supervision until after her parole end date.

Aimee Lynn Hankins was convicted of battery in Arkansas and eventually placed on parole for three years. She moved to Illinois, at which point, pursuant to the Interstate Compact for Adult Offender Supervision, the Illinois Department of Corrections (DOC) became responsible for her parole. The DOC assigned her case to parole officer Tom Lowe.

Hankins reportedly asked Lowe when her parole would expire, and he responded that Arkansas would determine the date. He also ordered her not to contact Arkansas officials to request that information. In February 2011, Lowe told Hankins that her parole had expired. She later filed suit in federal court, alleging that he had intentionally kept her on parole beyond her parole termination date in January 2010.

The district court dismissed the case for failure to plead facts necessary to state a claim. Essentially, it found that Hankins never disputed Lowe’s assertion that Arkansas determined when she should be released from parole, and that released him from liability for any mistake made in calculating her parole termination date. Hankins appealed.

The Seventh Circuit first noted that parole is a form of custody, and that while on parole Hankins was required to obtain Lowe’s permission to leave the county she lived in or spend the night away from home; she had to accept home visits from Lowe and other parole officers at their discretion; and she was required to attend and participate in counseling sessions. A person unlawfully kept on parole beyond its termination date is entitled to habeas corpus relief and may seek damages under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, the Court of Appeals held.

The district court erred when it allowed Lowe to shift his duty to know the termination date of parolees under his supervision to Arkansas, according to the appellate court. Thus, he had knowledge of a preventable risk but refused to do something as trivial as making a phone call to Arkansas authorities to prevent that risk from materializing. Lowe appeared to have “deliberately withheld essential information that he was required to obtain,” possibly causing Hankins to remain on parole for an extra 13 months – which would constitute an Eighth Amendment violation.

The actual end date for Hankins’ parole was not clear from the pleadings in the case. Since it was possible that her parole had not been terminated before she was released from supervision in February 2011, the Court of Appeals noted the end date should be determined on remand. The Court reversed the judgment of the district court with respect to Hankins’ Eighth Amendment claim and remanded the case, which remains pending. See: Hankins v. Lowe, 786 F.3d 603 (7th Cir. 2015). 

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Related legal case

Hankins v. Lowe