In September, 1995, during a speech televised from in front of a state prison in Jessup, MD, Governor Parris Glendening announced that he would henceforth deny the parole application of all Maryland prisoners serving life sentences. In Maryland, the Parole Commission can release prisoners serving limited sentences, but any parole of a lifer must be approved by the governor.
Since 1980, Maryland governors have approved 90 such paroles, an average of six a year. In the weeks prior to the speech, the Parole Commission recommended that Glendening parole eight lifers. They ranged in age from 42 to 60, and each had spent from 18 to 27 years in prison. Glendening said he rejected all eight recommendations and told the parole board to stop sending such cases to his desk.
Glendening, described by the Washington Post as "a moderate Democrat," said in his televised speech that "We owe it to the victims, the victims' families, and to our communities to ensure that these murderers and rapists - these predators - serve the life sentence imposed on them ... If you want to term this as retribution ... it's exactly that."
With that one speech, the Governor effectively changed the sentences of over 1,500 lifers, many of whom had plea bargained and plead guilty with the expectation that they would be considered for parole after 15 or 25 years.
There are some lifers who hoped the speech was nothing more than an empty political promise, like "No New Taxes," but in the six months which have since elapsed, no lifers have been paroled. Oddly enough, the Governor has also promised not to build any new prisons, so life for lifers promises to be a crowded affair.
[Editor's Note: Maryland lifers would appreciate any information that may be of use in launching a legal challenge to the Governor's unilateral usurpation of their parole eligibility. Please direct your responses to: Rocky Hines, #176059; ECI-West, 2-A-35; 30420 Revells Neck Road; Westover, MD 21890. Maryland prisoners recently won a challenge to the change in parole policy. See: Knox v. Lanham, 895 F.Supp. 750 (DMD 1995). Covered in PLN April '96.]
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