Washington Post Op-ed

That Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley is considering commuting the prison
sentences of two people serving parole-eligible life
sentences in Maryland suggests that grass-roots efforts to reform the laws
governing these sentences are having an impact.
But the release of Tamara Settle and Mark Farley Grant would do nothing to
address the larger issue that keeps the other 50-plus
"lifers" who have been recommended for release behind bars. From a public
safety standpoint, or as a matter of fairness, it
makes no sense to require a figure as political as a governor to give his
stamp of approval to Maryland Parole Commission
With this recent announcement, O'Malley is acting on two clear cases of
injustice. Having been imprisoned for close to 40
years for a crime I did not commit, I understand the importance of
addressing such injustices and know how much it means to
the people being considered and to their families. Grant was only 14 when
he was convicted of a crime that the only witness
later said he did not carry out. Settle has already served three times as
long as the person who actually pulled the trigger
in her case. Both should have been released years ago.
O'Malley might still act to address other examples of overly harsh
sentences or even outright innocence. But all of the Marylanders
given life sentences with the possibility of parole were told, and
believed, that they would have a meaningful chance to return
home one day if they behaved well, made serious efforts to rehabilitate
themselves and accepted responsibility for the harm
they caused. O'Malley, however, has turned down all those recommended for
release since last March, demonstrating that this
won't happen under the current system.
It's time to take the governor out of the process. That only 53 out of
2,500 people serving such parole-eligible life sentences
have been recommended for early release shows that the members of the
parole commission are being conservative and thoughtful
in their decision-making. Clearly, they take seriously their
responsibility to recommend release for only those whom they
believe will not jeopardize public safety and will be successful when they
reenter the community. Their decisions should stand.
This year, two modest fixes have been proposed in the Maryland Senate.
These bills would exempt from gubernatorial review
the two categories of life-term cases represented by Grant and Settle:
those who were juveniles at the time of their offense,
and those who were accessories, not principals, in the crime. Many people
who have received life sentences made a bad decision
to be involved in a felony but never killed or intended to kill anyone; to
keep them locked up forever without any hope of
release is not right. And virtually all countries have rejected
life-without-parole sentences - which these sentences have
effectively become in Maryland - for those who were children when they
were sent to prison. In fact, the constitutionality
of such sentences is currently being reviewed by the U.S. Supreme Court.
I have been working on this issue since my release in 2006 because there
are many who have been in prison for decades who
would be an asset to their families and communities if released. As it is,
what hope they have had, what incentive that the
possibility of parole has provided them to better themselves, has all but
been stripped from them.
It was one year ago, during a rally at the Capitol, that O'Malley echoed
the words of one of his predecessors and told TV
cameras that "life means life." [NOTES: [[LINK?]]]
Former governor Parris Glendenning has since taken those words back,
stating that he no longer supported policies that did
not allow parole consideration for people serving eligible life sentences.
That the governor is willing to consider approving
the parole commission's decision in two cases of clear injustice is a step
in the right direction. Now the General Assembly
needs to go further.
The writer is the executive director of the Maryland Restorative Justice

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commented 2016-03-29 02:10:22 -0400 · Flag
commented 2013-12-30 02:34:44 -0500 · Flag
Thank you
published this page in Blog 2012-03-24 18:23:08 -0400

A circle enclosing a square, the mandala is the Buddhist graphic symbol of the universe, and represents a mirror of natural cycles.