By Ned Meiners and Alexander Ramirez
BALTIMORE, MD – Former Maryland Governor Parris N. Glendening has declared that his 1995 decision to deny parole to any individual serving a life sentence in the state’s prison system was “completely wrong.”
The Maryland General Assembly is currently pursuing a bill, HB3, to remove parole decisions from the Governor’s office and place these decisions in the hands of a 10-member Maryland Parole Commission. The former Governor has proven to be an unlikely ally.
Maryland is one of three states in the country in which the Governor serves on the parole board. As Governor of the state from 1995 to 2003, Glendening pursued a policy of “Life means life,” meaning any inmate serving a life sentence would not be granted parole, even if they had earned it.
“I think about the people who, back in 1993, had earned work release and were productively preparing to return to their communities. Every one of them, no matter the personal effort they put in to rehabilitating themselves, was sent back to prison,” he said.
The human cost of such a policy is high. Prisoners with life sentences in Maryland have served decades longer than anyone anticipated, many losing hope after decades of incarceration, he said, adding, “From the perspective of operating a successful rehabilitation system, this has been a disaster.”
Although never intended to be permanent, this policy proved difficult to walk back once in place. Subsequent Governors continued to follow the precedent set by Glendening.
Amid calls for prison reform, current Governor Larry Hogan has increased the number of releases from Maryland prisons, but, in Glendening’s estimation, there are still worthy candidates for parole being rejected.
Glendening believes the Governor’s office is ill-suited to the parole process, and detainees would be better served by the Parole Commission.
He argues that Governors do not have the proper skills to make these decisions and only have a brief file prepared for them by staff. The result, he said, is that people’s freedom is not being determined by their merit, but on “the political tides of the day.”
The Parole Commission will be able to meet with the candidate and their families, as well as have access to detailed records to make an educated decision. Only by allowing a Commission with the proper skills and time to judge whether or not a prisoner has actually reformed themselves, will a proper rehabilitation system come to fruition, he said..
This change will not only serve justice, but, in Glendening’s opinion, free the Governor to work on other pressing matters in the State.
For Glendening, the time to reform the parole system is now. He has attributed recent social movements, including African American groups, as an “awakening” towards social justice and the reforms our prison system needs.
However, he also asserts that this was beyond any politics or progressivism.
“Making this change is not about any one governor. Whether you are a fiscal conservative or a social progressive — or both — this is the right thing to do. Let us rectify this situation. Fairness, equity and social justice call for nothing less,” he said.
Alexander Ramirez is a third-year Political Science major at the University of California, Davis. He hopes to hone his writing skills in preparation for the inevitable time of graduation.
Ned Meiners is a Legal Studies student at City College San Francisco. Originally from Maine, he currently resides on Bernal Hill in San Francisco.
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