In a Baltimore Sun op-ed, Laurence M. Katz Professor of Law Jane Murphy urges Maryland decision makers to take a close look at the state’s parole process as it applies to inmates serving life sentences for crimes committed when they were children.
Murphy, who directs UB’s Juvenile Justice Project, writes that most of the clinic’s clients had been in prison for more than two decades when the U.S. Supreme Court issued a series of decisions that acknowledged what, she said, “commonsense and neuroscience” make clear: Because adolescents’ brains are not fully developed, youngsters often do not appreciate risks or understand the consequences of their actions in the same way that adults do.
On the positive side, Murphy said, youngsters’ developing brains make them more likely than adults to mature and change – “to become, in penological terms, ‘rehabilitated.’”
Murphy continued: “In the most recent of these [Supreme Court] cases, Montgomery v. Louisiana, the Supreme Court held that clients like ours — serving life sentences for crimes committed when they were juveniles — are entitled to a ‘meaningful opportunity for release.’ That is, all but the rare ‘irreparably corrupt’ juvenile offender should be given a chance to be released.”
In Maryland, however, the promise of parole remains illusory, Murphy said, citing two primary reasons: The state does not mandate a right to counsel in parole hearings, and the governor must sign off on parole for anyone serving a life sentence – including those whose crimes were committed when they were children.
“Efforts to reform the parole process in Maryland are underway in both the court and the legislature,” Murphy said. “We urge decision makers to take a close look at this system and address the many barriers to sensible and just policy.”