SCSJ Seeks Decision in NC Parole Commission Case

Justice System Reform

RALEIGH, NC (March 5, 2024) — Southern Coalition for Social Justice is seeking a decision in a lawsuit involving a man who was sentenced to prison for a crime he committed when he was 14 years old, and who is challenging the North Carolina Parole Commission’s review process for people who were children when they were sentenced to prison.  

The organization filed a motion for summary judgement Monday, March 4, 2024, on behalf of Brett Abrams in Abrams v. Fowler with the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina. 

Read the full motion for summary judgement here, memorandum in support of the motion here, and the statement of facts here. 

Abrams pleaded guilty to second degree murder in 1984 and was sentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole. Over the past 40 years, he has been incarcerated in the North Carolina prison system where he has engaged in a remarkable journey of growth, maturation, and rehabilitation.  

For the last 15 years, Abrams has been in minimum custody and on work release, allowing him to work full-time in the community. He has had only 11 total infractions during his 40 years of incarceration, without any infractions for the last 17 years. Despite his impressive prison record, Abrams has been repeatedly denied parole since 1993.  

“The North Carolina parole system is failing to provide a process whereby someone like Brett Abrams, who has taken significant steps to reform and rehabilitate himself, is afforded a meaningful opportunity for release and a life outside of prison,” said Jake Sussman, Chief Counsel for Justice System Reform at SCSJ. “The U.S. Constitution requires nothing less.” 

The lawsuit challenges the Parole Commission’s process as being arbitrary and capricious, and failing to provide a meaningful opportunity for Abrams to receive parole as required under the Eighth Amendment. In 2015, U.S. District Judge Terrence W. Boyle ruled in Hayden v. Keller that North Carolina’s parole review process for people convicted and sentenced as children violated the U.S. Constitution by not giving a meaningful opportunity to demonstrate maturity and rehabilitation. As Abrams’ recent filings argue, the Parole Commission’s post-Hayden process, which was implemented in 2018 under court order, continues to violate the U.S. Constitution. 

As alleged in Monday’s filings, the Parole Commission’s process is rife with standardless and unconstrained discretion; lacks adequate safeguards to protect against serious risks of error; and permits material misrepresentations and omissions to undermine the integrity of the Commission’s ultimate determinations.  

Moreover, the sheer volume of cases that parole commissioners consider and vote on each day — at least 100, compared with 90 before the Hayden decision — precludes any reasonable consideration and determination of whether someone like Abrams, who was sent to prison over 40 years ago, has sufficiently demonstrated maturity and rehabilitation.  

Abrams is requesting in the Monday filings that the Court enter an order finding the Parole Commission’s process unconstitutional and requiring it to come into compliance.