Maryland Strips Governor’s Power to Overturn Parole Decisions
by Ashleigh Dye
On December 7, 2021, Maryland lawmakers voted to override the governor’s veto and take away his power to overrule parole recommendations for state prisoners serving a life sentence.
After the bill, SB 202, passed earlier in the year, Republican Gov. Larry Hogan vetoed it in May 2021, protesting the idea of removing his office from the parole process. But the state General Assembly had other thoughts, with a majority sufficient to override the veto voting the bill into law again: 92-46 in the House and 31-16 in the Senate.
Advocates say that parole is already a “long and arduous” process. Other supporters believe the bill will help keep decisions within the control of the Parole Commission. Those who spoke out against the bill, however, said the governor’s involvement is not an extra step but an essential one.
Prior to this change, Maryland law gave authority to the governor to reject parole decisions when they were sent to his office for final approval. While passing the legislation, however, lawmakers also increased some restrictions. Those serving life sentences must now serve 20 years instead of 15 years, unless they were convicted prior to October 2021. They will also be required to gain the recommendation of at least six of the ten parole commissioners, rather than a mere majority of a quorum.
Still, at least one advocate was cheered: Gwendolyn Levi of the Maryland Justice Project, a “returning citizen” after 16 years of incarceration, said that removing the political pressure on a governor is good for the smooth operation of the Parole Commission.
“My question was, because the parole board makes a thorough, thorough investigation, what different criteria does the governor use to then go against what his appointed council has recommended?” she wondered. “…If there’s no different criteria that the governor uses, and he’s only using it as a political tool based on today’s headline—and not based on the people’s lives that it affects—then he should be removed from this process.”
The General Assembly earlier overrode another Hogan veto to a bill that ended life sentences without parole for those convicted as juveniles. SB 494 passed with a veto-proof majority on December 4, 2021, providing also that those already sentenced to a life term without parole before age 18 are eligible for a parole hearing after serving 20 years in prison.
With Maryland’s passage of SB 202, California and Oklahoma are the only two remaining states where the governor has veto power over parole decisions.
Additional sources: Baltimore Sun, Washington Post, marylandmatters.org
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