Testimony on Senate Bill

Position: SUPPORT Senate Bill SB-694/Crossed filed in House HB-723 Inmates-Life Imprisonment-Parole Reform


February 15, 2017

To: Senate Judicial Proceedings 

From: Maryland Restorative Justice Initiative


We have advocated for many years, (technically since 1993) for a change in the current policy. We’ve said that if the men and women serving parole eligible life sentences were to be released they would not be a threat to public safety, and would become assets to their communities, and not liabilities. In 2012 the Unger decision was decided, allowing new trials for those convicted before 1980 under faulty jury instructions.  They were all parole eligible lifers. Since May 2013, over 160 have been released with not one single recidivist.  Calculate the math; 160 X approximately, 38,000 dollars a year, that’s $18,924,000 dollars saved by their releases.

What is even more remarkable are those who have been released through the courts without the Unger decision, we know that there are over 20. That’s another $2,280.000.


The fiscal note for our legislation to implement the change does not cost the state anything.  There are over at least 47 people still waiting to be released under Unger, yet those who do not have the Unger decision remain in prison because of politics.


An interesting fact about some of the people released under Unger, 24 of them had been recommended for parole by the parole commission, and denied parole in 2012 by former Governor O’Malley.


Using risk assessments, and best practices, this group of people should be at the top of the list. They are now saving the taxpayers of Maryland millions of dollars. The question becomes, how much time served is enough? Especially if the individual(s) pose no risk to public safety, and can be assets to society.   


If we first look at retribution, punishing a person for doing something wrong, incapacitating them to protect public safety, using this as a deterrent to crime; secondly we must look at rehabilitation, or rather habilitation, to change a behavior.  If this has been accomplished than we must ask ourselves, what is the use of continued punishment? To continue to keep people locked up for circumstance that will never change,(the nature of the crime)  even when they have demonstrated they have changed, is not sound judgment,  nor fiscally responsible, when these taxpaying dollars can be spent more productively.


More people serving parole eligible life sentences have been released under the Unger decision in over three years, then any of the last seven governors released during their administrations: Governor Mandel released 92 during his term in office. Governor Hughes released 64, Governor Schaefer released 25, Governor Glendening, paroled none, Governor Ehrlich commuted five sentences, but paroled none, and Governor O’Malley commuted 3, but paroled none. For the past twenty years no one serving a parole eligible life sentence has been parole out right in Maryland. Governor Hogan has commuted some sentences, but have not paroled out right any..


These tax paying dollars can be spent far more wisely, and the list of speaker who will testify at today’s hearing will lay out the case why this legislation should be voted favorably. 


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