Advocates, Formerly Incarcerated Individuals Rally to Give More People a Meaningful Chance for Parole
After governor denies paroles and commutations for all eligible “lifers,” groups seek to remove governor from parole process for those who were juveniles or not the principal in the offense
- WHO: Maryland Restorative Justice Initiative, Families, Friends of Incarcerated Lifers, Juvenile Justice Advocates
- WHAT: Press Conference, Followed by Judicial Proceedings Hearings on Parole for Juvenile Lifers and Felony Murder Accomplice
- WHEN: Thursday, March 1, 11 AM press conference followed by a 1 PM hearing
- WHERE: Rally, Press Conference in front of the State Capitol; Hearings, 2 East Miller Senate Building, 11 Bladen Street, Annapolis, MD
ANNAPOLIS, MD – Families and supporters of people sentenced to up to a lifetime behind bars will rally and hold a press conference Thursday prior to hearings in the Committee on Judicial Proceedings. Advocates and family members will testify on two bills, SB 584 and SB 492, that focus on parole approval for individuals given parole-eligible life sentences who committed an offense as youth, and parole for those who were accessories in a criminal offense, respectively.
“We want our leadership to see these bills through both houses and toward speedy enactment. They must understand that repealing the governor’s authority to reject the release of people approved by the Parole Commission is the only way to give people the opportunity they should have for a second chance,” said Walter Lomax, executive director of the Maryland Restorative Justice Initiative (MRJI). Regarding SB 584, Lomax added, “what we’re forgetting is that these individuals were malleable, impressionable youth at the time of their offense. They were told they would have a chance at parole. Many of them deserve it, but under current practices, their chance to live productive lives as adults in the community is summarily denied.”
As of March 2010, 59 of 2,500 lifers were recommended for either a parole or a commutation of sentence (to a term of years). While previously, a person could not be paroled without the Governor’s approval, last year, following heavy advocacy from MRJI and other supportive groups, former government officials and victim advocates, the Maryland Assembly passed legislation limiting the time in which the Governor can deny a lifer’s parole after Parole Commission approval to 180 days. Between last March and the end of 2011, the Governor has denied 40 commutation requests, three medical parole requests and five parole requests.
Senate Bill 492, sponsored by Sen. Lisa McFadden, would impact those convicted under the felony murder law, specifically those people who were not primary person in committing the crime.
“We’ve heard from prosecutors and family members alike that many of these people not only didn’t commit a homicide, they were so far removed from the crime that to effectively sentence them to die in prison is clearly unjust,” stated Tracy Velázquez, executive director of the Justice Policy Institute, a Washington, D.C. based organization that has studied Maryland’s criminal justice system. “The prosecutors, judges, and defendants all thought at the time of the sentencing that if they obeyed the rules and were shown to not be a risk to public safety, someday they’d have an opportunity for release. The politicization of the process is making that impossible.”
The Maryland Restorative Justice Initiative’s mission is to advocate and promote humane and sensible criminal justice and sentencing policies for those incarcerated long term in Maryland prisons. To contact Walter Lomax, call 443-413-6076.