Guidelines sought for parole panel

December 03, 1993|By Marina Sarris | Marina Sarris,Staff Writer

State Sen. Nancy L. Murphy will introduce legislation in the next General Assembly session that would impose guidelines on the Maryland Parole Commission and open some of the commission's now-secret proceedings to the public.

The seven-member commission, which is responsible for deciding which state prison inmates should be released early for good behavior, currently operates in secret.

Commissioners also function with no policy guidelines when deciding whether to punish people who violate their parole.

"The public has a right to know what to expect, since their needs and feelings have been lost in the whole charade of parole, probation and incarceration," said Ms. Murphy, a Baltimore County Democrat who sits on the Judicial Proceedings Committee, which would hear the two bills during the legislative session that begins in January.

The legislation was prompted by recent articles in The Sun about the commission and its handling of two parole violators. In one case, the system failed to keep Theodore R. Bundley Jr. in prison despite an assault conviction and robbery arrest during his parole.

In November 1992, Bundley, then 23, tried to rob a gasoline station in Catonsville, which is in Ms. Murphy's district. In the ensuing gunfight, he and the station's co-owner, Daniel L. Heiser, a 47-year-old father of two, were killed.

A provision in one of the bills is specifically aimed at that case. It would require the Parole Commission to incarcerate a parolee charged with a violent crime, as Bundley was, until it could decide whether to revoke his parole.

"This is bold legislation, and I pray it gets passed," said Susan Heiser, the widow of the man Bundley killed. "I think it's appalling the Parole Commission is not held accountable for its decisions and it operates in secret," she said.

Leonard Sipes Jr., spokesman for the state public safety department, which includes the Parole Commission, said he could not comment until he had read the proposed legislation.

In the past, some legislators and parole commissioners have opposed efforts to open up parole hearings on grounds that it would cost too much to build hearing rooms accessible to the public. Most hearings are held in prisons.

Ms. Murphy said she had not studied the cost of open hearings. "I think people are mad and they don't want to hear the pat phrases that it's costly or it will overwhelm the system or there will be backlogs," she said. "It seems to me that law-abiding citizens should have rights." Under her plan, the commission could debate cases in private but would announce decisions, and the reasons behind them, in public.

"It's a legitimate serious issue to be addressed, the issue of the hearing process of the parole board being closed," said Casper R. Taylor Jr., the Democratic nominee to be speaker of the House of Delegates. "But I'd like to hear more about the traditional reason for why they have been closed."

Ms. Murphy's other bill would direct the Division of Parole and Probation to develop guidelines for commissioners to follow when deciding whether to discipline parole violators.

"They adhere to prescribed guidelines when making parole decisions, but no guidelines exist for punishing parole violators," Ms. Murphy said.

"There should be some structure there . . . so you can have sure and swift discipline."

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