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 where governors have that power.
Monica Cooper, executive director of the Maryland Justice Project, said for years, state delegates have put forward legislation to end the practice, which disproportionately impacted African Americans.
She thinks it is inhumane to watch elderly incarcerated folks who are not a danger to their communities deteriorate in prison. She pointed out even during the height of the COVID pandemic, Maryland prison officials were releasing older inmates who had not since re-offended.
“It’s a win for the African American community,” Cooper asserted. “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 Gov. 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 maintained 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 did not commit.
They argued 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 number of programs that you’ve done,” Cooper explained. “These are actual people who over years upon years upon years know this individual.”
Older offenders are much less likely than younger offenders to re-offend following release, according to a study by the U.S. Sentencing Commission. Over an eight-year follow-up period, about 13% of offenders age 65 or older at the time of release were re-arrested compared with about 67% of offenders younger than age 21.