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Settlement Reached In Kangaroo Court Lawsuit

A settlement has been reached in a 2012 lawsuit alleging unconstitutional treatment of hundreds of Illinois youth imprisoned annually without access to an attorney for alleged technical parole violations. The suit charged the youths' parole revocation hearings amounted to a "kangaroo court" system. The Roderick and Solange MacArthur Justice Center has issued the following news release about the settlement. - Jim Bray

Illinois officials have agreed to major reforms aimed at protecting children in the state's parole system. These reforms will resolve a class-action lawsuit that alleged due process restrictions have been denied to children in Illinois' parole revocation hearings. The reforms include state-funded lawyers to represent youth returned to prison for alleged parole violations.

Filed by the Roderick and Solange MacArthur Justice Center and the Uptown People's Law Center in October 2012, the class action challenged the "arbitrary detention and imprisonment" of more than 1,000 young people each year through actions of the Illinois Prisoner Review Board and Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice. In agreeing to resolve the lawsuit, the PRB and the DJJ did not admit to the allegations contained in the complaint.

"Illinois children don't deserve to be churned through a system they don't understand and re-imprisoned unnecessarily," said Alexa Van Brunt, clinical assistant professor of law and attorney for the MacArthur Justice Center. "Thankfully, Illinois officials have recognized that assembly line justice is bad for youth, for communities and for public safety. This consent decree represents a remarkable sea-change in the parole process."

The PRB is charged with determining whether a youth violated parole, and with imposing sanctions, including additional imprisonment, on those youth determined to be violators. The DJJ is responsible for supervising children placed on parole or aftercare.

In a 2011 study of the parole revocation system, the Illinois Juvenile Justice Commission found the majority of youth did not understand the process and routinely waived their right to a preliminary hearing that would determine whether probable cause for revoking parole exists - a step intended to prevent inappropriate incarceration. An attorney was present at only one of 101 revocation hearings observed in the study, and only 2 percent of youth were informed they had a right to counsel.

Key provisions of the settlement reached with the DJJ and PRB include:

  • Within one day of being returned to prison for an alleged violation of parole, youth will be given a written notice of the charges and material explaining the parole revocation process.
  • Youth under the age of 18 will automatically be appointed counsel to represent them throughout the entire parole revocation process and without cost to the youth or the youth's family.
  • Youth between the ages of 18 and 21 also may be eligible for appointed counsel. Such youth will be screened by DJJ staff to determine if they need help presenting their case to the PRB.
  • DJJ and PRB will abide by strict deadlines in the parole revocation process, for instance, the final revocation hearing before the PRB will occur no later than 45 days after a youth is incarcerated in DJJ.
  • If a youth is revoked at the final revocation hearing, PRB will provide a written explanation of the decision and an explanation of the appeal process, which will be conducted by three PRB members who were not involved in the initial revocation decision.
  • An independent monitor will be appointed with access to observe the parole revocation process, and talk with the youth, their lawyers and staff at DJJ and PRB. The independent monitor will present the federal court with quarterly compliance reports.

U.S. District Judge Andrea R. Wood has scheduled a fairness hearing for July 31 on the proposed settlement.


Comments welcome.


Posted on May 19, 2014

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