The ACLU-NJ filed an amicus brief on behalf of a man who was denied parole, ostensibly, on the basis of his mental illness.
Willie Mitchell is a 67-year-old man who has been incarcerated for 39 years. He has developmental disabilities and a diagnosis of chronic schizophrenia, paranoid type, and anti-social personality disorder. Yet the Parole Board recently denied Mitchell parole because his “M[ental] H[ealth] issues, coupled with his sense that people want to hurt him and he becomes assaultive, raise concerns that he would commit a crime.” As proof of this, the Board relied on mental health records that they claimed, without any statement of reasons, could not be disclosed to Mitchell himself.
The Office of the Public Defender (OPD) represents Mitchell challenging this parole denial. As a threshold issue, OPD challenged the non-disclosure of mental health records. The ACLU-NJ submitted a brief and participated in oral argument as amicus, arguing that the non-disclosure violated due process and well-established case law and that the materials must be disclosed to Mitchell. If the court remanded the case to the Parole Board, the ACLU-NJ also argued the court should instruct the Board that it cannot prohibit Mitchell from having the assistance of his legal counsel at a new parole hearing (a prohibition the Board otherwise enforced). Finally, the ACLU-NJ expressed serious concerns that denying a person parole because of their “mental health issues” and specific symptoms amounts to discrimination on the basis of disability in violation of the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination and constitutional equal protection guarantees.
The court heard oral argument on the issue of non-disclosure on September 15, 2021. On October 7, 2021, having reviewed the disputed materials in camera, the court issued an order requiring the Parole Board to disclose them all to Mitchell, determining there was no reason his records, including his psychological evaluation, should withheld from him as confidential. The parties are currently briefing the merits of the appeal.
- Mitchell: Amicus Brief (131 KB pdf)