Agreement Reached in “Kangaroo Courts” Case
In response to a federal civil rights lawsuit charging Illinois with conducting sham parole revocation hearings akin to kangaroo courts, Illinois officials have agreed to provide state-paid lawyers to represent youth returned to prison for alleged parole violations and to take several other steps to ensure parole violation hearings comply with constitutional safeguards.
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 (PRB) and Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ).
“For too many years, children on parole have been removed from their homes, families, and communities, and held in prisons without any real opportunity to challenge their imprisonment,” said Alexa Van Brunt, Clinical Assistant Professor of Law and attorney for the MacArthur Justice Center. “Without a lawyer by their side, they are subject to assembly line justice—churned through a system they don’t understand and re-imprisoned unnecessarily.”
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.
Plaintiffs’ class counsel are seeking attorneys’ fees in the action.
Proposed consent decree (pdf)
Illinois Youth Endangered by 'Kangaroo Courts,' Class Action Lawsuit Charges
The Illinois system for determining whether to revoke parole for children and teenagers is akin to a "kangaroo court" that violates the U.S. Constitution and wreaks havoc with the lives of thousands of youth, according to a class action lawsuit filed by the Roderick MacArthur Justice Center in federal district court in October.
The suit was filed on behalf of all youth who are on parole in the state of Illinois and who will go before the Illinois Prisoner Review Board (IPRB). The IPRB is charged with determining whether a youth violated parole and with imposing sanctions on those youth determined to be violators. The lawsuit charges IPRB with systematically depriving juvenile parolees of their rights to a fair hearing, legal representation and other gross violations of the U.S. Constitution.
"Over the years, thousands of Illinois youth have wrongfully languished in prison because the Illinois Prisoner Review Board violates the most basic tenets of fundamental fairness and due process." said Alexa Van Brunt, Clinical Assistant Professor of law and attorney for the Roderick MacArthur Justice Center at Northwestern University Law School. "This flawed system creates a revolving door that ensures most young people who leave prison will return at some point. Not necessarily because they commit a new crime, but because the parole process imprisons youth without a hearing based on a mere allegation that the youth committed a minor violation of his parole."
MacArthur Justice Center Attorneys Van Brunt and Sheila Bedi are handling the suit.
Suit Alleges 'Kangaroo Court' Juvenile Parole System, Chicago Tribune
Lawsuit Claims Illinois' Juvenile Parole System Is Unconstitutional, Illinois Issues blog
Updated - 10/23/2012