PHILADELPHIA — The American Civil Liberties Union filed a class action lawsuit today challenging the unconstitutional incarceration of people facing probation and parole revocation proceedings in Montgomery County.
The lawsuit, filed on behalf of six plaintiffs against Montgomery County court and probation officials, alleges that the county continues to violate both the Pennsylvania Constitution and the United States Constitution by incarcerating nearly every person accused of violating the conditions of their supervision for months until their revocation hearing. According to the ACLU’s lawsuit, this deprives these individuals of basic due process by regularly failing to assess whether detention prior to the revocation hearing is necessary in the first place, then denying them “prompt” revocation hearings, as required by both state and federal constitutions.
The plaintiffs, who are currently detained at the county jail, are represented by the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania, the ACLU, the law firm of Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr LLP, and attorney Mark Houldin.
“The disregard for the constitutional promise of due process by Montgomery County is appalling,” said Reggie Shuford, executive director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania. “When the county simply locks up individuals accused of violating probation or parole without offering a prompt hearing, it not only denies them their liberty, it puts their livelihood, their families, and their health in jeopardy. That is unacceptable.”
According to court records, from January 1, 2019, through May 18, 2021, virtually every person facing revocation proceedings — at least 89 percent — were incarcerated. Of people detained while waiting for a hearing, 92 percent never received the constitutionally mandated initial hearing to assess if there is probable cause that the alleged violation occurred. Moreover, Montgomery County kept people in jail for an average of 70 days before providing any court hearing whatsoever. Montgomery County provides no opportunity to assess whether detention is warranted.
“Montgomery County perfectly represents the problem with America’s systems of parole and probation. Nationally, probation and parole are promoted as alternatives to incarceration, but in reality, they drive high numbers of people right back to jail or prison, while in many cases failing to help them get the services and resources necessary. This disproportionately impacts Black and brown people,” said Allison Frankel, Equal Justice Works fellow at the ACLU and lead author of Revoked: How Probation and Parole Feed Mass Incarceration in the United States. “Montgomery County’s system is ultimately harmful, discriminatory, and counterproductive.”
The lawsuit asks that Montgomery County hold prompt revocation hearings to assess probable cause and whether detention is necessary and appropriate, and that the court provide whatever relief it deems necessary to the class of plaintiffs named in the challenge.
More information about the case, El v. 38th Judicial District, including a copy of today’s filing, is available at aclupa.org/MontCo.
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