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Missouri’s parole board can no longer ignore the rehabilitation of people sentenced to juvenile life without parole

What you’ll read today

  • Spotlight: Missouri’s parole board can no longer ignore the rehabilitation of people sentenced to juvenile life without parole

  • Introducing the ‘Appeal: Political Report’ website

  • Secretive campus cops patrol already overpoliced neighborhoods

  • People charged with illegal entry posting bail, but judges find new ways to deny freedom

  • Women in prison punished more often and more harshly than men

  • El Paso cops sued for civil rights violations against children

In the Spotlight

Missouri’s parole board can no longer ignore the rehabilitation of people sentenced to juvenile life without parole

In 2016, the Supreme Court, ruled 6-3 in Montgomery v. Louisiana that its 2012 decision in Miller v. Alabama banning mandatory life without parole sentences must be applied retroactively. Montgomery made clear the Court’s belief that life without parole sentences for crimes committed by youth should be reserved for the rarest of rare cases. States were also presented with options: Instead of resentencing the hundreds of people who were affected by the decisions, they could make them eligible for parole. [Adam Liptak / New York Times]

Soon after Montgomery was decided, Amy E. Breihan of the MacArthur Justice Center’s St. Louis office penned a piece condemning Missouri’s courts and its legislature for their “remarkable reluctance in bringing the state in line with Miller.” Approximately 80 people in the state’s prisons were serving life without parole sentences “imposed under an unconstitutional sentencing scheme in which judges and juries were required to condemn juvenile offenders to spend the remainder of their young lives in prison.” [Amy E. Breihan / St. Louis Post-Dispatch] Missouri’s life without parole sentences also disproportionately affected young people of color: only 20 percent of state residents are people of color, compared to nearly 60 percent of those in prison on juvenile life without parole sentences. [Prison Policy Initiative]

That year, Missouri had enacted a law, Senate Bill 590, that gave people serving juvenile life without parole (JLWOP) sentences the right to petition for parole review of their sentences after they had served 25 years. The law mandated the consideration of 15 factors—five more than in ordinary parole proceedings—in evaluating eligibility for release. [Robert Patrick / St. Louis Post-Dispatch] Parole hearings, as an alternative to resentencing hearings, have the advantage of ruling out the possibility of prosecutors seeking and courts imposing sentences that, while not formal life without parole sentences, still exceed the life expectancy of the person sentenced. [Kate Wheeling / Pacific Standard]

Yet Missouri’s parole review process has, according to an order issued last Friday, failed to provide those up for parole with the “meaningful and realistic opportunity to secure release upon demonstrated maturity and rehabilitation.” The order came in a lawsuit brought by the MacArthur Justice Center and the law firm Husch Blackwell on behalf of four plaintiffs. More than 90 people incarcerated in Missouri are similarly situated and the lawsuit was granted class certification in June.  Nearly 85 percent of those seeking release have been denied since Missouri enacted SB 590. [Robert Patrick / St. Louis Post-Dispatch]

The court found that the parole board limits people’s access to information about the parole review process and gives them little opportunity to show evidence of rehabilitation. A person seeking release can have only one delegate present on their behalf. That delegate cannot speak to anything beyond the person’s “transition to the community.” Judge Nanette K. Laughrey wrote that the “[d]elegates—whether lawyers or not—are foreclosed from advocating for consideration of the Miller factors and other factors that the Board is required to consider.” People seeking release also have no access to the parole files and victim and prosecutor statements. After the hearing, the parole board communicates its decisions in two-page “barebones, boilerplate form,” that allowed for only two reasons for denial: the seriousness of the original offense or person’s “inability to … remain at liberty without again violating the law.” [Order in Brown v. Precythe]

Norman Brown, Ralph McElroy, Sidney Roberts, and Theron Roland, the plaintiffs in the case, were all sentenced to life without the possibility of parole as teenagers and have all been incarcerated for at least 25 years. Each was denied after petitioning for parole release. Roland “has not had a conduct violation in at least 15 years” and has been in the honor dorm for 13 years. He has also held a job in the factory or workhouse areas of the prison for at least 15 years. Ronald was denied release based solely on the circumstances of his offense. [Order in Brown v. Precythe]

Brown was only 15 when he participated in the homicide for which he was sentenced. A forensic psychological evaluation concluded that Brown’s involvement “was the product of a vulnerable adolescent being manipulated by a powerful adult rather than the product of bad character.” It also found that Brown has “long since outgrown the antisocial behavior of his youth,” that his “psychological risk factors for future violence and criminality are low,” and that “he has developed a skill set that would allow him to be a viable and productive member of society should he be granted parole.” Judge Laughrey wrote that by the parole board’s own standards, Brown has been a model incarcerated person. The only substantive reason provided for his denial was the circumstances of his underlying conviction. [Order in Brown v. Precythe]

The court has given the parole board 60 days to devise a plan “designed to ensure that all Class members are provided a meaningful and realistic opportunity for release based on demonstrated maturity and rehabilitation.” [Robert Patrick / St. Louis Post-Dispatch]

Introducing the ‘Appeal: Political Report’ Website

We are excited to announce The Appeal: Political Report, a new website that focuses on the local politics of criminal justice reform and mass incarceration. It features stories, as well as tools with which to explore local developments around the country. In the run-up to the November election, the website highlights and details the key state- and county-level elections that will shape criminal justice, law enforcement, or immigration policy.

Stories From The Appeal

A Temple University police officer. [Photo Illustration by Anagraph /
Video still via Temple University Campus Safety]

Secretive Campus Cops Patrol Already Overpoliced Neighborhoods. Campus police forces have become more professionalized, but critics say they operate behind a veil of secrecy and often exceed their jurisdiction. [Ryan Briggs]

Stories From Around the Country

People charged with illegal entry posting bail, but judges find new ways to deny freedom: In San Diego, the federal government has been forced to change tactics in its “zero tolerance” immigration policy. People being prosecuted for illegal reentry were typically held on bail they could not pay and then, after the government had obtained a conviction, deported. But the Bail Project, a nonprofit, began posting bail for those charged with illegal re-entry a few months ago. Because of immigration detainers, those people for whom bond was posted were then immediately transferred to ICE custody and deported—without the U.S. Attorney’s Office obtaining the misdemeanor convictions it sought. In response, the government has now stopped placing immigration detainers on people so it can criminally prosecute them. The shifting landscape led to an unusual and, according to defense attorneys, unprecedented development last Tuesday when a U.S. magistrate judge in San Diego ordered that each defendant find and be under the responsibility of an approved “third-party custodian” as a condition of their release. As of Friday, none of the 50 defendants in question had been able to meet the condition. [Kristina Davis / San Diego Tribune]

Women in prison punished more often and more harshly than men: A new investigation by NPR and the Medill School of Journalism has found that women in prison in Illinois and around the country face higher rates of discipline than men, mostly for minor, subjective rule violations. Incarcerated women in Vermont were three times more likely than men to be disciplined for “making a derogatory comment” and in Indiana they were almost three times as likely for refusing to obey an order, and nine times as likely for being a “habitual rule violator.” Women also receive harsher punishment for the same rule violations—including solitary confinement, the loss of good time, being placed in physical restraints, and denial of phone privileges. Advocates call for greater trauma-informed practices, instead of punishment, to support rehabilitation and recovery, given the high likelihood that women in prison have experienced physical or sexual abuse—in 2010, an Illinois study found that 98 percent of women in prison had experienced physical abuse before their incarceration and 75 percent had experienced sexual abuse. [Jessica Pupovac and Kari Lydersen / Chicago Reporter]

El Paso cops sued for civil rights violations against children: Four El Paso police officers are being sued over two incidents, from 2016 and this year. The lawsuits were brought by the mothers of eight children, whose civil rights are alleged to have been violated. In 2016, despite being in her own backyard, a 16-year-old girl was violently arrested on suspicion of trespassing and was subjected to a search that included a search of her bra by a female officer. This year, an officer pointed a handgun at a group of children while responding to a call about suspected trespassing. That officer, Jose Rivas, was also involved in the 2016 incident when it was alleged that he, “knocked [the girl’s] cell phone from her hand, kicked her, grabbed her hair and threw her to the ground.” At a news conference announcing the lawsuits, a lawyer for the parents said: “If the internal affairs or his supervisors would’ve taken appropriate action in 2016, perhaps we wouldn’t have an entire group of children who are now going to be traumatized for the rest of their lives having a had a gun pointed at their face because maybe this officer either would have learned from this or no longer been an officer.” [Daniel Borunda / El Paso Times]

Thanks for reading. We’ll see you tomorrow.

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