I have written on the topic of parole for lifers a lot, but I think I’ve reached the end of my efforts on this issue. I’m not giving up. I just think my job’s done here. The Maryland General Assembly has finally taken an action that will remove politics from the parole system, and that’s a good thing.
Don’t think I take my cues from Stephen King movies. I came up with my own conclusions about the flaw in Maryland’s parole process — the subject of my Sunday Sun column — on my own. It had nothing to do with the scene in “The Shawshank Redemption,” where Red, the inmate played by Morgan Freeman, goes up for parole a third time and finally gets approved for release. It’s as if he’s in street clothes and shown to the Shawshank gates the next day. Remember?
But, actually, in most states, that’s pretty much how it works. Parole boards are invested with the power to interview and assess inmates who have served significant amounts of their sentences. The board members hear from psychologists and prison counselors; they hear victim impact, and then make a judgment.
In Maryland, however, the governor could — and most of the time did — reject the parole commission’s recommendations that inmates serving life sentences, murderers primarily, be released. I thought that was unfair, and not because I’m a “thug hugger,” as some readers have called me over the years.
Last words on this: If we’re going to have a parole system — that is, give criminals the opportunity to serve time, show remorse and prepare for release back into society — then we should abide by the recommendations of the duly appointed, 10-member parole commission. We should not be giving someone who has to win votes, the governor, the opportunity to say, “Never mind, you’re staying in prison so I don’t have to take heat for letting you out.” When a convicted murderer is sentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole, he/she knows that, 20 or 30 years hence, they might have a chance to return to society — if they live within the prison rules, take classes, work a job within the institution and convince counselors or psychologists that they no longer pose a threat to society.
If we don’t want parole, the state should abolish it. If we want “life means life” as the rule, make it one.
But that’s not the rule in Maryland. We have parole — essentially, it’s the state saying we believe in giving even people who commit horrible crimes a second chance to live an honest, nonviolent life. So we should not be baiting inmates into thinking they can earn freedom, then take that hope away because a governor needs to run for a second term or higher office.
Finally, the Maryland General Assembly has taken the governor (and politics) out of the process. The parole commission will continue to function as always, but without the knowledge that a governor will likely ignore its recommendations, as some of them did, keeping dozens of inmates in prison far longer than the commission deemed necessary.