Maryland Parole Commission suffers systemic problems, new report reveals

Maryland Parole Commission suffers systemic problems, new report reveals

The Justice Policy Institute identified key inefficiencies in Maryland’s parole system, putting forth alternative measures

In a new report, the Justice Policy Institute assessed Maryland’s parole system for the first time in nearly ninety years. The report concludes that management of the parole system by the Maryland Parole Commission suffers from inefficiencies which include a disparity between rules and reality, a lack of publicly accessible data, racial disparities and continued high recidivism rates. Notably, despite the influence of COVID-19 on prison populations, the parole grant rate decreased between 2020 and 2021. This stands in contrast with the actions taken by other jurisdictions to increasingly grant parole on an exceptional basis due to the pandemic.

The data compiled by the Justice Policy Institute reveals inconsistencies with a common-sense approach to criminal justice more generally. One striking statistic is that parole is less frequently granted with age. Only 28% of people over 60 are granted parole, whereas 43% of individuals between the ages of 31 and 35 are granted parole. 

The report highlights that “parole grant rates that decline with age run counter to everything we know about trends in criminal offending”. Overall, the data, as compiled in the report, suggests that the Maryland parole system is operating on the basis of “antiquated” rules, rather than best practices.

In response to identified issues, the report makes ten policy recommendations. The proposed changes include introducing a presumption that the goals of punishment have been met at the time of initial parole eligibility, introducing selective supervision measures, publicizing reasons for the denial of parole, and providing counseling to parole applicants.

"Only 28% of people over 60 are granted parole, whereas 43% of individuals between the ages of 31 and 35 are granted parole in Maryland."

The report argues that under the current standard, parole boards too often use their discretion to reevaluate the original sentencing decision, allowing the severity of the offense to preclude other possible considerations. The report argues that this practice leads to the incorporation of emotional and subjective ideals into the decision making process.

Instead of framing the conditions for release around the severity of the original offense, the Justice Policy Institute recommends that it would be better to make the decision of whether or not to grant parole on the basis of an individual’s present and future risk to the community. This would involve creating a presumption that the goals of the original sentence had been met. The effect of such a presumption would be that the Parole Commission would assume the goals had been met, unless there was evidence to the contrary. 

Another notable recommendation contained in the report is that supervision should be imposed selectively, namely relative to risk. The supervision imposed on someone granted parole should be the least restrictive measure of supervision necessary to meet the goals of re entry and public safety. 

This would mean that instead of applying a general supervision standard, the standard would be set according to an assessment of an individual’s risk to the community. This would involve, according to the Justice Policy Institute, the Parole Commission working in cooperation with other relevant bodies to develop a supervision strategy that has reentry as its main goal.

Another landmark change recommended in the report would be that, if the Parole Commission were to deny an application, they would have to publicize the reasons for doing so and allow for an appeal. This process is not adopted nationwide; only 24 states require that the individual be informed of reasons for denial, and only 23 states require that the information concerning the denial be made public. 

The Justice Policy Institute also recommends that individuals applying for parole be given access to counsel. This reflects the “complex and confusing” nature of the Maryland parole process more generally. Given the complexity of the process, the report advises that legal representation be provided in order to both increase transparency and legitimize the outcome of the decision. 


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