Federal judge approves settlement in parole lawsuit

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Former Illinois inmates accused of violating their paroles and unable to afford an attorney now have a better chance of receiving a fair hearing — and legal counsel — during parole revocation hearings.

A lawsuit alleging the state’s parole revocation process was unconstitutional was settled Wednesday.

U.S. District Judge Amy St. Eve officially approved the deal in a brief hearing at the Dirksen Federal Building.

The Roderick and Solange MacArthur Justice Center and the Uptown People’s Law Center filed the lawsuit against the Illinois Department of Corrections and the Illinois Prisoner Review Board in 2013.

St. Eve complimented both parties in the settlement, saying she wished more lawyers could work together as well as the ones in this case.

Under the settlement:

  • Illinois parolees will receive a written notice of any alleged parole violation that could lead to revocation.
  • They also will receive written findings of every stage of the process.
  • Parolees will have the opportunity to make their case at a preliminary hearing before a hearing officer or a member of the Prisoner Review Board.
  • If proven guilty of the alleged violation, parolees will have the chance to prove their case in a final revocation hearing hosted by members of the IPRB.

Alexa Van Brunt, one of the attorneys for the plaintiffs and an assistant professor at Northwestern University’s Pritzker School of Law, said both parties have worked hard to achieve a just result. All parolees now facing revocation can apply for an attorney if they meet the qualifications, she added. Those qualifications include having a valid claim that they did not commit the offense or a valid reason that could mitigate against the revocation — something that would be hard to prove without an attorney.

“We are working very closely with Governor Rauner to bring real reform to our criminal-justice system in Illinois,” IDOC Director John Baldwin said in a press release. “This agreement restores integrity to the parole

revocation process and ensures potential violators have fair representation and a voice in the process.”

Van Brunt said the settlement hits the heart of the state’s mass incarceration issue.

“Making sure the process is fair and people who are [in jail or prison] actually have violated the terms of their parole or they’re actually there for a valid reason will get at the heart of a serious problem of incarceration in this state,” Van Brunt said.

Van Brunt said the state has now nine months to get funding and attorneys for parolees who qualify based on the settlement and added an independent monitor will be implemented to make sure the settlement deal is implemented and complied with.

“The final agreement is not the end result,” Van Brunt said. “We plan to monitor it over the next months and years and continue to protect the rights of the parolees and make sure their rights are protected.”

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