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Third Lawsuit Filed Against Missouri Prison System

A lawsuit has been filed against the State of Missouri, saying young prisoners shouldn't be treated like adults. (wycokck.org)
A lawsuit has been filed against the State of Missouri, saying young prisoners shouldn't be treated like adults. (wycokck.org)
January 3, 2017

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – The third lawsuit against the Missouri Department of Corrections in two months has been filed.

The MacArthur Justice Center alleges the parole system violates the constitutional rights of young offenders. Citing a series of recent U.S. Supreme Court rulings, the suit argues that people who were sentenced for crimes committed as children require special consideration by the state's Parole Board.

Mae Quinn, director of the MacArthur Justice Center, said young offenders are given a one-sided, 15- to 20-minute interrogation by Board members and prison staff, without any real consideration of modern brain science, adolescent development or the impact that trauma has had on them.

"We also argue that the practices, not just for juveniles but for all offenders who see the parole board in Missouri, fail to comply with Missouri law and statutes; that for too long they've gotten very lax in their practices, there hasn't been a lot of check on their practices," she explained.

The lawsuit takes the state to task for prohibiting inmates from reviewing evidence against them prior to or during their hearings, and making the defendants choose between having a lawyer or a witness present. The state typically doesn't comment on pending litigation.

Quinn said the culture and climate in the prison system has allowed the legal rights of inmates to be trampled upon.

"The Missouri Department of Corrections has become what is seen as a pretty dysfunctional system where those who want to speak up about problematic practices are met with retaliation," she said. "We see that with regards to our clients, but it's even happening with regard to staff within the facility."

Quinn said when it comes to young offenders, they must be considered as children.

"They're not miniature adults," she added. "Processes, practices, hearings, all need to take account of this special status, this constitutional status as a child, and that's no different in the parole system which is deciding liberty issues for these young people whether they'll be living their lives behind bars or not."

Another class-action suit filed in federal court by the MacArthur Center alleges there are around 5,000 inmates in Missouri prisons with Hepatitis C, but only five are receiving adequate treatment.

Veronica Carter, Public News Service - MO