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MO Parole-Reform Lawsuit Moves Forward as a Class Action

A federal lawsuit seeks to change the way Missouri informs people on parole of their rights. (Public Domain Pictures/Pixabay)
A federal lawsuit seeks to change the way Missouri informs people on parole of their rights. (Public Domain Pictures/Pixabay)
January 9, 2019

ST. LOUIS - A class-action lawsuit seeking major reforms of Missouri's parole system just got the go-ahead from a federal judge in St. Louis.

The case, Gasca vs. Precythe, alleges that the Missouri Board of Probation and Parole violates people's due-process rights by not sufficiently educating them about their right to a hearing, and not screening them quickly or thoroughly to determine if they qualify for a court-appointed attorney.

Amy Breihan, director of the MacArthur Justice Center, which brought the case, said that about 6,000 people in Missouri are accused of violating parole each year and 90 percent are sent back to prison - many for things such as losing a job or missing a meeting with their parole officer.

"Thousands of people are being reincarcerated in Missouri, mostly for technical violations, not breaking the law," she said, "and they're never told about some of their very basic constitutional rights, and they're never afforded those rights."

The state has argued that people on parole are informed of their rights but that most simply waive them. The lawsuit seeks no monetary damages; rather, it asks that the Missouri Department of Corrections make major changes to its practices.

Breihan noted that the case originally concerned the fate of seven plaintiffs, but the judge's new decision consolidates them into a class-action suit that includes the 15,000 people currently on parole in Missouri.

"What it means is that the court recognized that the issues that we have highlighted in the case are systemic," she said. "Hopefully, if we're able to obtain a good outcome in the case, it will have a bigger impact for folks who are on parole supervision, beyond just the seven named plaintiffs in the case."

The MacArthur Center has asked for a summary judgment in its favor. If that isn't granted, the case will go to trial in the fall.

More information is online at macarthurjustice.org.

Suzanne Potter, Public News Service - MO