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Class Certified in Lawsuit Challenging Missouri Parole Violation Procedures

by David M. Reutter

In January 2019, a Missouri federal district court certified a class in a lawsuit alleging the state incarcerates thousands of people without providing due process before depriving them of their liberty interest during “sham” parole violation proceedings. The class could number up to 15,000.

PLN previously reported the bizarre conduct of then-Missouri parole board member Don Ruzicka and staff working with him, who kept score to see if they could get prisoners appearing at parole hearings to say ridiculous words such as “platypus” and “armadillo.” The class-action complaint cited to that conduct as part of the sham proceedings that Missouri parolees face. [See: PLN, June 2018, p.27].

The suit, filed by the MacArthur Justice Center (MJC), alleges the Missouri Department of Corrections (MDOC) and its Division of Probation and Parole have “developed fundamentally unfair and procedurally flawed parole revocation processes” that violate the class members’ rights based on U.S. Supreme Court precedent. It further claims that “parole officers issue and execute their own violation warrants, taking parolees into custody without sufficient cause or independent review, and then re-incarcerate them within the prison system.”

Some of the parole violations are based on technical issues, such as parolees traveling from Missouri to Kansas. In other cases, violations ensued from criminal charges that were later dismissed, but the parole board upheld the violations based solely on the arrest. It was noted that many parolees are not even certain of the terms of their supervision because their parole order is often in conflict with the Release Decision Form or additional directives issued by their parole officer.

Upon entry into the MDOC on a parole violation, prisoners receive forms that provide notice of the alleged violation which “are in many instances dense and incomprehensible.” Further, the forms fail to provide parolees with important information about their rights or what to expect at final revocation hearings.

Once in the system, “meaningful probable cause hearings or final hearings are almost never held.” Of 600 cases between March 20, 2017 and June 2, 2017, violation hearings were provided only six times. Waivers of such hearings were present in a handful of other cases. Where waivers do exist, parolees were often pressured to waive their right to a hearing or counsel. There is no provision for attorney representation other than for counsel to act as a witness, and no other witness can then be called.

When parole is revoked based on a new charge, the revocation order provides “no indication of what law was supposedly violated and based on what conduct.” There is also no information about the length of the parole “hit” or how an appeal may be filed.

The Missouri parole board considers about 6,000 revocation cases a year. 

“Perhaps the most shocking aspect of the flawed parole revocation in Missouri is that these parolees are never told that they might have the right to an attorney, let alone provided with one,” said MJC lawyer Megan Crane.

“This ruling reflects the systematic failure of the problem in Missouri,” added Amy Breihan, director of MJC’s Missouri office. “This should be a wake-up call to MDOC and its Parole Board that they can no longer avoid its constitutional obligations to the citizens it supervises.” The case remains pending. See: Gasca v. Precythe, U.S.D.C. (W.D. Mo.), Case No. 2:17-cv-04149-SRB. 

Related legal case

Gasca v. Precythe