A U.S. District Court recently ruled that the Missouri Parole Board had been violating the U.S. and Missouri Constitutions in its handling of cases involving juvenile offenders.
“I sat in on a couple of these parole hearings and got to see firsthand what they were like,” said Amy Breihan, director of the MacArthur Justice Center. “They largely focus, if not exclusively focus, on a detailed accounting of what happened at the crime, [instead of asking,] ‘What have you done in the 30 years since you were convicted, how have you matured over time, and how have you demonstrated that you are ready to be released into the community?’ which really should be the relevant question here.”
The MacArthur Justice Center filed the 2017 class action lawsuit that led to the federal judge’s recent decision on this issue.
Breihan said it was problematic that offenders were not allowed to review information in their files and that their counsel was not allowed to correct factual mistakes.
“I’m hoping that the biggest change is a culture shift; that’s what really needs to happen here,” she said. “We can change what’s required, we can have 60 days’ notice for hearings, we can give them access to parole files; but unless there’s a shift in the mentality of the parole board members, those making these decisions, a whole lot might not change.”
Breihan spoke with host Sarah Fenske Tuesday on St. Louis on the Air.
The Missouri Board of Probation and Parole was invited to join the discussion. It declined, but a representative submitted a statement saying, “The department does not have any comment, but respects the judge’s ruling and will comply with her directive.”
“St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Alex Heuer, Emily Woodbury, Evie Hemphill, Lara Hamdan and Alexis Moore. The engineer is Aaron Doerr, and production assistance is provided by Charlie McDonald.
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