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Report Finds Older Prisoners in Maryland Are Less Likely to Be Paroled

by Jordan Arizmendi

Upon reading the Justice Policy Institute report entitled “Safe at Home: Improving Maryland’s Parole Release Decision Making,” the first look at Maryland’s parole system in excess of 80 years, one disturbing trend is that the rate at which the Maryland Parole Commission approves parole sharply declines for people once they turn 40. Even though research shows that people are less likely to commit crimes as they get older, the Maryland Parole Commission is more likely to grant parole to a young defendant than an older one.

The report faults the system for this unnerving injustice in which the players who decide which defendants gain freedom and which must return to their cells for another 10 years are more focused on the details of the crime than recidivism. Maryland law, for example, dictates that parole commission members are to consider certain factors when determining whether or not to grant parole.

According to the Maryland Department of Public Safety & Correctional Services website: We look at multiple factores [sic] when conducting a parole grant (initial) hearing. These include, but are not limited to: the nature and circumstance of the offense; victim input; history and pattern offenses; prior major incarcerations; institutional adjustment; rehabilitation; programming needs; home plans and employment readiness.

However, according to the Justice Policy Institute, many of the Maryland Parole Commission members have backgrounds in law enforcement, and thus, it may be difficult for these members not to give more consideration to the circumstances of the crime than to other more important factors in terms of granting parole, such as a defendant’s disciplinary record or their personal growth while incarcerated.

Leigh Goodmark, the founder and director of the Gender Prison and Trauma Clinic at the University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law, said “I thought parole was supposed to be about someone’s growth and rehabilitation. If that’s true, continuing to disproportionally focus on the circumstances surrounding the crime is fundamentally at odds with that view.”

In addition, the number of cases that the Maryland Parole Commission even hears has declined. Starting in 2018, the commission heard 5,002 cases. The following years, the number of hearings were 4,813 and 4,101, and then in 2021, there were only 2,023 hearings. One significant change that could be the cause of such a sharp reduction is that in 2021, the Maryland state Senate passed a bill that removed the Governor from the parole process, giving the Maryland Parole Commission the final determination on whether a prisoner serving life should be released. The bill also increased the minimum time that a prisoner must serve to qualify for release from 15 to 20 years.

The report makes several recommendations for the Maryland Parole Commission to consider when making parole decisions. First, members need to presume that punishment has already been satisfied at the time of the parole commission meeting. Also, the parole commission should allow defendants to have access to counsel as well as all of the information that parole commission will use. Lastly, for every denial issued by a parole commission, they should provide a decision in writing and allow individuals to appeal it.  




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