Annapolis, MD – Maryland lawmakers voted this week to repeal the governor’s ability to reject parole decisions for people serving life sentences, taking itself off a list of just three states that still let governors have that power. Monica Cooper with the Maryland Justice Project says for years, state delegates have put forward legislation to end the practice, which disproportionately impacted African Americans. She thinks it’s inhumane to watch elderly incarcerated folks who aren’t a danger to their communities deteriorate in prison. She points out that even during the height of the COVID pandemic, Maryland prison officials were releasing older folks who have not since reoffended.
"It’s a win for the African American community. And it’s a win for families, children, children who are now 40 years old who haven’t seen their parent since they were three. It’s a win for the community all around."
The House voted 92 to 46 late Tuesday to override Governor Larry Hogan’s veto of Senate Bill 202 after the Senate approved it the day before. Opponents of the bill say it allows dangerous people back onto the streets and sends a wrong message to communities looking for help with violent crime.
But Cooper maintains everyone should be given a second chance, especially incarcerated people who are falsely imprisoned or committed crimes as teenagers and have reformed after years in prison. Her group has been working for the veto override with advocates including Lea Green of Maryland CURE, whose son is serving a life term, and Walter Lomax, a Marylander who was finally exonerated after spending 39 years in prison for fatal robberies he didn’t commit. They say parole committees, who have worked with incarcerated people, are better to judge release than a governor reading a profile.
"Parole and probation make decisions based on people’s institutional records, based on the amount of programs that you’ve done. These are actual people who over years upon years upon years know this individual."
Older offenders are much less likely than younger offenders to reoffend following release, according to a study by the United States Sentencing Commission. Over an eight-year follow-up period, about 13 percent of offenders age 65 or older at the time of release were rearrested compared with about 67 percent of offenders younger than age 21.