Judge Orders Missouri to Give Juvenile Lifers Parole Chance
A federal judge has ordered Missouri to develop a plan to provide inmates who were sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole for crimes committed as minors with "a meaningful and realistic opportunity" for release, finding the state's current system unfair.
U.S. District Judge Nanette K. Laughrey issued her order on Friday and gave state officials 60 days in which to submit their plan, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported. The order came as part of a class-action lawsuit filed on behalf of four inmates who received such sentences and who were later denied the possibility of parole during hearings.
Roderick & Solange MacArthur Justice Center of St. Louis, which represents the inmates, said in a news release Sunday that the ruling could affect more than 90 Missouri inmates, and that other inmates could join the suit.
In 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that mandatory life sentences without the possibility of parole for crimes committed as juveniles were unconstitutional. Four years later, Missouri enacted a law allowing inmates who received such sentences as juveniles to have parole hearings.
"The U.S. Supreme Court has made clear that individuals who commit crimes as juveniles must be provided a realistic opportunity for release from prison based on demonstrated rehabilitation," Amy Breihan, the center's director, said in a news release.
The lawsuit contends that the parole hearings have been stacked against the prisoners. The judge noted that state officials won't let inmates view their parole files. The inmate can only have one attorney or delegate, who can't take notes and can only discuss the inmate's transition to the community.
Victims may be accompanied by multiple supporters and get to speak first for as long as they want. Prosecutors, who also can speak for as long as they wish, are free to present arguments and unproven theories regarding the crimes, the judge wrote.
Laughrey wrote that the state needs to come up with revised policies, procedures and customs that will ensure that inmates who committed crimes as juveniles have a meaningful and realistic opportunity for release based on demonstrated maturity and rehabilitation. The ruling applies to inmates who already had unsuccessful parole hearings.