Bill targets governor's parole power on life terms

Blacks' `overincarceration' noted by city legislator

February 05, 2002|By Sarah Koenig | Sarah Koenig,SUN STAFF

A prominent Baltimore lawmaker, in response to what she calls the "overincarceration" of African-Americans in Maryland, has introduced a legislative package that includes a bill to remove the governor from parole decisions on inmates serving life sentences.

Maryland is one of a handful of states in which the governor approves parole recommendations for convicts serving life terms. In 1995, Gov. Parris N. Glendening said he would not grant parole for such inmates, except in cases where they were very old or very ill.

About 2,100 "lifers" are in state prisons. Depending on the circumstances of conviction and sentence, offenders serving life terms become eligible for parole after 15 or 25 years.

Since he took office in 1995, Glendening has denied parole to 14 people, and granted it to six who were terminally ill. The governor appoints the eight-member Maryland Parole Commission, which makes parole recommendations.

Speaking to about 50 activists yesterday, Del. Salima S. Marriott criticized "Democratic centrists" for pushing her party to the right through a tough-on-crime agenda. "The zeal to arrest and legislate lengthy sentences without meaningful re-entry programs is political posturing that does not achieve public safety," she said.

Glendening's stance also makes inmates lose hope, said Francine Jones, president of the Lifers Coalition, a nonprofit group that lobbies for inmates' rights. "We even have some victims who don't agree with the policy."

Marriott, who heads the city delegation and chairs the law and justice committee of the Legislative Black Caucus, said the goal was to make Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend listen. Townsend has not declared her candidacy, but is widely presumed to be Glendening's successor. She has consistently supported his criminal justice decisions.

"The way to get her to be different from Glendening is to be loud this year," Marriott told the group. "We have to make it clear that we are no longer going to be silent on the issue of justice."

Marriott has introduced the same parole bill for the past two sessions, without success.

Marriott is also sponsoring a bill in direct opposition to one of Townsend's legislative priorities this session. Townsend wants to limit the ability of judges to revise criminal sentences after they are set, while Marriott's bill would expand judicial review.

Marriott was furious when Townsend proposed the judicial restriction, and said it was a repudiation of constituents who would likely vote for her for governor.

Her other priority is a bill to establish a three-year program to give tax breaks to Baltimore and Prince George's businesses that hire former offenders.

In Annapolis

Today's highlights

10 a.m. Senate meets, Senate chamber.

10 a.m. House of Delegates meets, House chamber.

2:30 p.m. House Judiciary Committee hearing on bill to make leaving the scene of a fatal automobile accident a felony, Room 120, Lowe House Office Building.

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