In April 2021, this board applauded the General Assembly’s passage of SB 202, a bill that would remove the governor from the parole process for those sentenced to life imprisonment, and hoped that Gov. Larry Hogan would not veto the bill.
Alas, Hogan failed to take our advice. The veto override vote is currently scheduled for December. We urge the General Assembly to override the governor’s veto.
A brief recap of the parole process for lifers: After reaching eligibility, people with life sentences come before the Maryland Parole Commission. Those seeking parole meet with two commissioners, who look closely at the offense for which the person is incarcerated and the person’s institutional history (including work, education, programming, and infractions).
They require those seeking parole to provide concrete information on where they plan to live and work if they are released. They often hear from the victims of the crime, who are entitled by law to appear at the hearing and submit victim impact statements either orally or in writing. They determine whether the person poses a future risk of dangerousness and is sincerely remorseful for their crime.
If the two commissioners believe the person should move forward in the parole process, the person is referred for a psychological risk assessment. Once the risk assessment is completed, the two commissioners decide whether to send the case to the full commission for consideration.
Lifers are recommended to the governor for release only if a majority of the 10-member Maryland Parole Commission — a commission made up of a variety of individuals, a majority of whom are former police officers and prosecutors — believes that they are suitable for parole. Very few lifers are recommended for parole on their first meeting with the commission.
This process is thorough and rigorous. It equips the parole commission with the information and insight it needs to make a decision about a person’s future likelihood of recidivism and the contributions they can make to society. It allows trained professionals to give substantial, deep consideration as to whether a person has earned the right to rejoin the community.
As we noted last April, the refusal to grant parole has contributed to mass incarceration in Maryland. Twenty-one percentof those incarcerated in the state have been sentenced to life, placing Maryland among the states with the highest percentage of life-sentenced people in the United States. And in Maryland, 76% of the lifer population is Black, although Black people make up just 31% of the state’s population. And 35% of Maryland’s life-sentenced population is elderly, a group that poses little risk of re-offending but whose medical needs become more and more costly as they age.
The parole process for lifers in Maryland has long been subject to the political whims of the governor. Between the time that Gov. Parris Glendenning declared that “life means life” in 1995 and the end of Gov. Martin O’Malley’s final term in 2015, not a single lifer recommended by the Maryland Parole Commission was released on parole.
Since the Maryland ACLU filed a lawsuit challenging whether juvenile lifers had a meaningful right to parole in Maryland in 2016, Hogan has released some lifers, but has denied parole to far more of those recommended than he has approved for release.
Parole should not be political. The General Assembly can allow the Maryland Parole Commission to do the work it was established to do and that it is well qualified to do by overriding Hogan’s veto in December.
Editorial Advisory Board member Arthur F. Fergenson did not participate in this opinion.
EDITORIAL ADVISORY BOARD MEMBERS
James B. Astrachan, Chair
James K. Archibald
Gary E. Bair
Andre M. Davis
Arthur F. Fergenson
Julie C. Janofsky
Ericka N. King
Angela W. Russell
Debra G. Schubert
L. Mark Stichel
The Daily Record Editorial Advisory Board is composed of members of the legal profession who serve voluntarily and are independent of The Daily Record. Through their ongoing exchange of views, members of the board attempt to develop consensus on issues of importance to the bench, bar and public. When their minds meet, unsigned opinions will result. When they differ, or if a conflict exists, majority views and the names of members who do not participate will appear. Members of the community are invited to contribute letters to the editor and/or columns about opinions expressed by the Editorial Advisory Board.