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Bill calls for drastic change to the parole process for 'lifers'

Maryland has a well-defined process in place concerning second chances for those men and women given a life sentence with the possibility of parole.

Specifically, these inmates become eligible for a case review by the state's parole commission after serving a minimum of 15 years. Once this requirement is met, the parole commission members will review the inmate's case, meet with them and require the completion of various psychological examinations before deciding whether to send a recommendation of parole to the governor who has the final say on the matter.

Statistics show, however, that inmates are highly unlikely to see the state's highest elected official approve their parole recommendation. Indeed, not a single parole recommendation has been approved by a Maryland governor over the last 20 years.

In recognition of this reality, state lawmakers have introduced legislation -- Senate Bill 111 -- calling for reform of the state's parole system.

If passed, the bill would leave the final decision on parole for so-called lifers up to the parole commission, essentially eliminating the requirement that the governor sign off.

According to supporters of the SB 111, the parole process has become too infused with politics such that the parole commission has been effectively prevented from performing its job of giving second chances to otherwise deserving individuals.   

Furthermore, supporters point out that the parole commission is in the best position to make this determination given the time it spends investigating each inmate, and that this route is by no way a rubber stamp as only 63 lifers have been recommended for parole by the commission since 2006.

Lastly, they argue that by vesting the parole commission with the sole authority to grant parole to lifers, the state could save millions of dollars, as it would presumably lead to more inmates being released.

There are naturally multiple opponents to this legislation, including law enforcement officials and prosecutors, all of whom argue that another level of gatekeeping must be in place to ensure the public is protected against crime.

What are your thoughts on this legislation?

Source: The Washington Post, "Seeking a second chance for criminals serving life sentences in Maryland," Lynh Bui, Feb. 25, 2015

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