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Last Maine Parolee Released

Steven R. Clark, 68, the last prisoner eligible for parole since Maine abolished its parole system in 1976, was released after receiving approval from the state Parole Board on June 9, 2023. He had been denied parole in 2018 but had been granted parole previously under the old system.

The Knox County man was sentenced after a sensationalized trial in the 1975 death of a 2-year-old child, Jared D. Wright, whom Clark was watching for the boy’s mother when the child was brought to a hospital bruised and not breathing. A jury found him guilty of the toddler’s murder.

Under state law at the time, a parole board would hear requests by prisoners for early release. The parole system was replaced by the legislature and governor in 1976 with the current system, in which there are specific sentences imposed by judges, followed often by probation.

Clark has cycled in and out of prison since that 1975 murder conviction, but on lesser charges. Richard Harburger, chair of the Maine Parole Board, knows Clark’s case well, having denied him parole in 2018. “The issues we have denied him on five years ago are issues he had dealt with and come to terms with and to our satisfaction,” Harburger said, commenting on Clark’s recent release. “We believe people are entitled to a chance.”

Harburger supports parole reform and is one of the voices that debated whether the Maine legislature should bring parole back. He released a statement to the legislature’s Criminal Justice Committee in support of proposed legislation to restore parole. Gov. Janet Mills (D), a former prosecutor, established the Commission to Examine Reestablishing Parole in spring 2022 to study the pros and cons after a 47-year absence of parole in the state.

In February 2023 the commission recommended reviving parole. Its report said parole promised hope to people serving long prison sentences. It also argued parole would save the state money. It costs the state roughly $76,000 to $78,000 to keep one person incarcerated for a year.

The two commission members who voted against restoring parole, Department of Corrections Commissioner Randy Liberty and state Sen. Scott Cyrway (R-Albiob), said Maine’s Supervised Community Confinement Program (SCCP), which allows approved prisoners to serve the last three years of their sentence outside of prison, was working well.

In January 2023 Sen. Anne Beebe-Center (D-Rockland) brought before the legislature L.D. 178, an act which would restore parole as an option for incarcerated individuals. In May 2023 it was narrowly rejected by a divided legislative committee after hearing hours of intense and emotional testimony.

Gov. Mills opposed L.D. 178 and would have vetoed it had it made it to her desk. She argued that Maine already allows early reentry by giving judges leeway to suspend portions of sentences, in addition to the benefits offered by SCCP.  

Sources: Courier-Gazette, Portland Press Herald, WABI

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