Given how the whole country appears to be super-polarized these days, an American learns to savor the times when fellow citizens on the right, the left and in the middle agree on something. This doesn't happen very much, but when it does, it's almost inspiring.
I've only seen it a few times over all my years of watching local, state and national politics, and the one area of public interest that had, surprisingly, a lot of common ground was criminal justice.
There's still disagreement over the death penalty, though polling suggests not as much as a couple of decades ago. But everyone agrees that the first order of business is public safety, protecting us from violent offenders.
After that, when we get into the weeds of crime and punishment, people of starkly different political philosophy agree on several things — that we lock up too many people for drug offenses; that people with addictions should get treatment, not punishment; that juvenile offenders need special treatment and should not be thrown into adult prisons to fend for themselves; that there should be more corrections in corrections — education and training — to slow down the revolving doors; that it makes no sense to bar adults with criminal records from employment after prison because that only leads to more trouble for them and for society.
Whether their views are informed by fiscal concerns or fundamental morality, people seem to come together here. They like common-sense; they like logic.
I frequently read and hear citizen support for things our elected representatives are afraid to embrace — decriminalization of certain drug offenses; better preparing inmates for re-entry to society; keeping kids away from adult criminals — if not on the streets, at least in our prisons.
And people believe in fairness: That, for instance, inmates who pay their societal debt, who behave well in prison over many years and who have the possibility to one day win parole, ought to be granted that opportunity. Based on what I've heard from readers, people of all ideological stripes believe a politician's personal ambition should not influence the independent and objective decisions essential for justice.
Which is why I come back to the Mark Farley Grant case today. There are many profound questions here — why, for instance, Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley has ignored this lifer's credible claims of innocence. But, beyond that, there's a simple matter addressed in a recent letter to the governor by a state senator from Baltimore County — Farley Grant has served enough time already.
"Much has been made about whether or not Mr. Grant even committed the murder of which he was convicted," Sen. James Brochin wrote. "Putting that aside, the question turns on whether a juvenile who went to adult prison at age , has now served 28 years, and has lived an exemplary life behind bars deserves a second chance.
"Governor, if you met Mr. Grant, like I have, spoke with the prosecutor in the case, and listened to what people who know him say about him, I am convinced you would be moved to commute his sentence."
Senator Brochin, a Democrat from Towson, visited Mr. Grant at the state prison in Hagerstown in late summer. "He is located in in a unit that is reserved for the most well-behaved inmates," Senator Brochin wrote Mr. O'Malley. "In 28 years, he has had three minor infractions. He has made use of every educational opportunity (earned his G.E.D. in 1991) and has excelled in learning the trade of meat cutting."
Senator Brochin provided the governor with something Mr. O'Malley has had at hand since the summer of 2008 — a recitation of facts that raise doubts about Mr. Grant's conviction in the shooting death of another teenager, Michael Gough, in Baltimore in 1983. Professors and students at the University of Maryland School of Law spent more than three years looking into the case and concluded that another teenager was responsible for the murder. They asked the governor to commute his sentence; the governor took no action. The Maryland Parole Commission recommended Mr. Grant for parole; the governor took no action.
I think people from the left, right and middle will agree there is something terribly wrong with that.
Dan Rodricks' column appears each Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday. He is the host of Midday with Dan Rodricks on WYPR, 88.1 FM.