Maryland has not paroled any juvenile offenders serving life sentences in more than 20 years. But this February, Gov. Larry Hogan (R) announced a process to grant parole to these juvenile offenders, reported the Washington Post.
The move was in response to pressure from advocates, lawmakers and the court system, some of whom still say the order doesn’t go far enough.
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Hogan said that since taking office, his administration “has sought to bring balance to Maryland’s criminal justice system, which includes offering individuals who have paid their debt to society a second chance to live productive lives.”
According to the governor’s statement, though the order simply codifies the current parole practices into formal policy, it is a step toward parole reform. But advocates said the governor’s order falls short of true parole reform, especially for those inmates given life sentences as teenagers.
ACLU attorney Sonia Kumar said the governor’s order “changes nothing.”
“The order—which the governor could revoke at any time—is primarily hollow, self-serving language that doesn’t fix the long-standing constitutional deficiencies of Maryland’s parole scheme and simply reinforces the lack of any actual standard to ensure individuals who have demonstrated their rehabilitation are actually released,” she continued.
Hogan’s order is not the only effort addressing this issue in Maryland.
Maryland’s Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee is weighing a measure to remove the governor from the parole process. Hogan’s counsel, Robert F. Scholz, wrote a letter to state Sen. Robert A. Zirkin, the committee’s chair, which said that the governor has approved two requests for parole and commuted seven life sentences and that there was no “reasonable justification to removing gubernatorial oversight.”
The state’s Supreme Court is also considering a challenge to the legality of the parole system.
According to judges on the Maryland Court of Appeals, no governor has signed off on a parole board’s recommendation to release a lifer who committed a crime before turning 18. Currently, about a dozen states do not grant such paroles. Only three—Maryland, California and Oklahoma — require the governor to sign off on the parole of prisoners sentenced to life.
Brian Saccenti, an assistant public defender who argued the case before the Court of Appeals, was among those who feel Hogan’s executive order does not go far enough.
“The fact that zero juvenile offenders have been paroled under this approach (or for the last 20 years) proves that it does not afford them a meaningful opportunity for release if they become rehabilitated,” he said in a prepared statement.