Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan has signed off on early release for two men sentenced to life for crimes committed when they were teenagers, the first governor to do so in more than two decades.
Hogan’s decision to grant parole to the pair — and to allow a third man to be released without his signature — comes during a shift toward promoting rehabilitation for people who commit serious crimes when they are young. It also has reignited debate over whether Maryland’s governors wield too much influence over the parole system.
Maryland is an outlier among the states: Just a handful give the governor ultimate power to accept or reject parole recommendations.
More than 300 people in Maryland are serving life sentences for offenses committed before they turned 18, according to the state’s Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services. Since Hogan, a Republican, took office in 2015, the Maryland Parole Commission has vetted and recommended the release of 21 of those “juvenile lifers.” Hogan has overruled them 18 times.
Influential state lawmakers recently began drafting legislation to revoke the governor’s power in the parole system.
Even though Hogan has been more lenient than any governor in a generation, the infrequency with which inmates recommended for release are granted freedom has criminal-justice activists agitating anew for change.
“We really need to get the governors out of it,” said state Democratic Sen. Delores Kelley, chairwoman of the Senate Finance Committee.
She said she met Tuesday with colleagues to start drafting the bill. It will be considered next year by a General Assembly that is under new leadership and has swelling ranks of liberal-leaning lawmakers, factors that give Kelley and others optimism it may pass.
Hogan, through a spokesman, declined to explain his reasoning for granting parole to these men. He also declined to say whether the decision represents a formal shift in policy.