A nationwide campaign is under way to reform parole policies in American prisons, according to Truthout.
More than 60 grassroots organizations across the nation are challenging the way parole commissioners focus heavily on the nature of the crime instead of whether the inmate poses a danger to the public at the time they meet the board.
“Parole boards are so deeply cautious about releasing prisoners who could come back to haunt them that they release only a small fraction of those eligible,” Beth Schwartzapfel wrote in The Marshall Project.
In 2015, New York parole commissioners denied release to 80 percent of the more than 12,000 applicants interviewed, according to the Times Union. In Wisconsin, only 4 to 5 percent of paroles for life-sentenced prisoners are granted, according to Truthout.
Activists have had some victories, securing the ouster of three New York parole commissioners and forcing the resignation of another, according to Truthout.
They also stopped the passage of a New York law that would have mandated those convicted of the most serious crimes to wait five years to reapply after a denial.
In Maryland, a new law passed that requires the governor to review each grant for parole within 180 days. This is a welcome change from the 1995 state law that effectively ended the possibility for anyone serving a life sentence to receive parole, according to Walter Lomax of the Maryland Restorative Justice Initiative.
While in prison, Lomax taught himself to read and write, earned a GED, and an associate degree in business. He also excelled at his work-release job, wrote and edited a prison newsletter, and earned many certificates of achievement.
Lomax was refused parole four times and served 40 years behind bars because Maryland law requires the approval of the governor for every parole decision, according to the Open Society Institute. Now, Lomax campaigns with Justice Policy Institute to remove the governor from the process for people sentenced to life.
The common mentality of parole boards is often as simple as, “Why take that chance? Let’s just keep everybody locked up,” according to an article in The Atlantic by Marc Morjé Howard, the director of Georgetown University’s Prison and Justice Initiative.
In March 2017, there were 2.3 million people incarcerated in the United States, with many having little chance for parole, Truthout reported.