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MO Corrections Approach to Juvenile Lifers Called Inadequate

Approximately 50 Missourians are serving life sentences for crimes committed as youths, despite a Supreme Court ruling barring that. (Jose Antonio/Pixabay)
Approximately 50 Missourians are serving life sentences for crimes committed as youths, despite a Supreme Court ruling barring that. (Jose Antonio/Pixabay)
August 3, 2017

ST. LOUIS -- An Associated Press nationwide survey shows that five years after the U.S. Supreme Court barred life without parole sentences for juveniles, states, including Missouri, have made few significant changes.

Attorney Amy Breihan with the MacArthur Justice Center in St. Louis said at the time of the high court's ruling, she assumed that people incarcerated during as youths would simply be re-sentenced. Instead, they've been scheduled for parole board hearings after serving 25 years. Only one other person is allowed at the hearing - either a family member of the inmate or his attorney - and no one is permitted to take notes.

"Missouri is doing a poor job, to put it simply, of complying with the Supreme Court's mandate where the court very clearly held that children are different, for purposes of sentencing, and as such they need to be treated differently,” Breihan said.

According to the MacArthur Justice Center, three of 23 Missouri inmates who have made it in front of the board after originally being given life-without-parole sentences have received release dates. Approximately 50 additional Missourians are serving life sentences for crimes committed as youths.

Breihan said some progress has been made, noting that there's been a mutual recognition of the need to make improvements to parole board hearings. She pointed to one discovery they made.

"One of the parole board members was literally playing games during parole hearings,” Breihan said.

Don Ruzicka resigned from the parole board in June after it was discovered he and another corrections colleague entertained themselves by trying to get potential parolees to repeat song lyrics and words like "platypus" or "armadillo.”

Missouri's interpretation of the Supreme Court ruling prompted the filing of a class action lawsuit against the state's corrections department by the MacArthur Justice Center earlier this year. Breihan said she doesn't expect the case to go to trial until November of 2018.

The corrections department has declined to discuss the pending litigation.

Kevin Patrick Allen, Public News Service - MO