A bill making its way through the Maryland General Assembly would permit the compassionate release of certain incarcerated older adults in the state.

The legislation aims to reform Maryland’s medical and geriatric parole systems, which advocates argued have been historically inconsistent in determining eligibility.

Sen. Shelly Hettleman, D-Baltimore County, a sponsor of the bill, said it would create a biennial process of geriatric review for incarcerated people age 60 and older, as well as a medical review for people with certain ailments.

Hettleman explained the bill would ensure incarcerated people are able to get the health care they need.

“The system, unfortunately, is broken right now,” Hettleman asserted. “Folks who have tried to petition for, for example, outside medical evaluation, have been stymied in their efforts to do that. And so what we’re trying to do here is make that system more efficient and effective.”

In Maryland, 6.4% of the prison population is more than 50 years old, with 11% of all incarcerated residents serving life sentences. The bill received a hearing in both the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee and House Judiciary Committee last month.

Vivian Penda, an advocate for compassionate release who submitted written testimony to the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee in favor of the compassionate-release bill, said the legislation would have helped her son Donald Leroy Brown, who died in 2020 due to health complications from diabetes days after being released on medical parole to a nursing home.

“You all have to do something,” Penda urged. “Something has to be done about people who are so sick that they can’t take care of themselves, yet you keep them in prison away from their family members, the people who can take care of them in a better situation.”

Between 2015 and 2020, the Maryland Parole Commission approved 86 medical parole applications and denied 253, according to a report from the Justice Policy Institute.

Emily Scott/Maryland News Connection

Emily Scott is a reporter and producer in Philadelphia. She previously worked at WHYY, Philadelphia’s NPR station, and is a 2018 graduate of Temple University and the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies. https://twitter.com/emilyivyscott

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