Maryland Considering Change in Parole System

On March 8, 2011 Maryland’s House of Delegates passed a bill attempting to change the governor’s role in parole decisions. Currently, the governor must approve or reject each parole recommendation the Maryland Parole Commission makes regarding prisoners sentenced to life with the possibility of parole. The House bill would force the governor to decide his or her approval within 90 days of the recommendation. After 90 days, if the governor had made no decision, the Maryland Parole Commission’s decision would stand. The Maryland Parole Commission is appointed by the governor.

The state Senate is now considering the bill, but also has a bill of its own removing the governor from needing to approve the Parole Commission’s decision at all. The likelihood of the House bill passing in the Senate is uncertain; ultimately its passage may come down to a vote or two. The governor has not yet given a formal opinion of the bill.

Only Maryland, California and Oklahoma must get approval from their respective governors for parole decisions. In most states, a committee or board appointed by the governor is the sole authority on parole decisions.

Parole Decisions Can Have Political Consequences

Governors can be wary about approving parole, as it can reflect negatively on the governor if a parolee commits another violent crime. Maryland’s current governor, Martin O’Malley, has yet to respond to any of the 49 parole recommendations made by the panel. The first recommendation came to his desk in 2007.

The number of parolees that have been approved by governors has been dwindling in Maryland. Governor Marvin Mandel approved the Parole Commission’s recommendation 92 times from 1969 to 1979. The previous two governors before Governor O’Malley each approved six.

The current system does have merits, opponents of the bill argue. Governor approval forces accountability from a publicly elected official, as opposed to little-known panel members. Many are not concerned with a reduced parole rate; the public in general has been historically unsympathetic towards prisoners who commit violent crimes. By necessity, anyone affected by this bill will have committed a violent crime, often murder in the first degree.

If you have questions regarding parole, for yourself or friends and family, you should speak with a criminal defense attorney.

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