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Government & Politics

Senate approves removal of governor from medical parole process

Sen. Jill P. Carter (D-Baltimore City). File photo by Bryan P. Sears.

Maryland’s Senate took a step Tuesday toward removing the governor from the process of approving or denying parole to prisoners who are serving life sentences but pose no threat to public safety because of poor health or incapacitation.

The Maryland Parole Commission has the power to authorize that a person be paroled and, for persons held at the Patuxent Institution, the Patuxent Board of Review has the power to recommend parole.

Senate Bill 132, approved on a 33-10 vote, would repeal the requirement that those panels refer their decisions to the governor and also would repeal the governor’s authority to override the panels’ decisions on parole.

Under the bill, a person authorized for medical parole could be released “at any time” during the term of a sentence.

As a condition of release, the commission may require that person to be placed in a hospital, hospice, or other housing accommodation.

Current law provides the governor up to 180 days to overturn a medical parole decision.

Three years ago, the legislature approved the removal of the governor from the parole process.

But Sen. Jill P. Carter (D-Baltimore City), sponsor of the medical parole bill, said it “was simply an oversight” to not include the medical parole process in those changes. She noted that laws governing medical parolees were in a different section of the state code.

Carter sponsored the medical parole legislation two years ago but it did not advance beyond the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee, on which she serves. The bill passed the Senate last year but stalled in the House Judiciary Committee.

She said Tuesday at least five people have died since the parole process legislation passed.

“It’s really a miniscule, substantive change that could have a great impact on people that are dying,” she said. “The people that believe [those incarcerated] who did something awful should [remain] there. It’s really a burden on all of us because we’re paying for that, as opposed to letting them go and be home with their family. People like to talk about death with dignity. That’s death with dignity.”

But one agency disagrees with removing the governor from this role, especially to allow a person to be released “at any time” during a person’s sentence.

A Feb. 7 letter from the Maryland State’s Attorneys Association states that those sentenced to lifetime incarceration deserve significant prison time for offenses such as first-degree murder, first-degree rape and first-degree child abuse that results in the death of a child younger than 13.

“Even if the offender no longer poses a threat to public safety,” according to a letter submitted by Patrick Gilbert, senior assistant state’s attorney for Wicomico County. “Provisions that permit elected executives to distance themselves from such important decisions are rightly disfavored – the people should have a say at the ballot box in how discretion is used in these situations.”

The Senate version now moves to the House of Delegates for review.

A hearing on the identical House bill sponsored by Del. J. Sandy Bartlett (D-Anne Arundel) came before the Judiciary Committee on Tuesday. Bartlett serves as vice chair of the committee.

Bartlett’s bill received approval in the House two years ago but didn’t advance beyond the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee. The bill didn’t move out of her committee last year.

“This is only for inmates who are incarcerated with the possibility of parole,” she said Tuesday.

Bartlett said the bill does not grant any more privileges or put an inmate in a more advantageous position than anyone else who has the possibility of parole.


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Senate approves removal of governor from medical parole process