There are an estimated 2,100 people in prison nationwide who were sentenced to life for crimes they committed when they were 17 or younger. States have begun to eliminate sentences of life without parole for juveniles. Others have implemented alternative sentencing programs to give juvenile offenders a “meaningful opportunity” for release.
The changes were prompted by an abundance of scientific evidence about adolescent brain development, as well as U.S. Supreme Court decisions that have been issued in the past eight years, according to a Dec. 10 article in The Intercept. But Maryland has been slow to get on the reform bandwagon. Maryland, California and Oklahoma are the last remaining states in which the governor’s signature is required in order to parole prisoners with life sentences.
With 200 parole-eligible juveniles in the Maryland prison system, juvenile justice advocates — like UB School of Law Professor Jane Murphy, who is quoted in the story — are hoping that the recent re-election of Gov. Larry Hogan might signal an opportunity for the kinds of reforms they believe are long overdue.
“Republicans are presumed to be about law and order, and it can be easier for law-and-order politicians to move on criminal justice reform or grant clemency,” Murphy told The Intercept.
“There’s a lot of pressure on him, but it’s also politically easier for him to [grant parole]. We’re sort of hopeful now, because this is his second term and he’s term-limited. … If this is the end of the road for Hogan, he might be more courageous.”
The pressure on Hogan to take criminal justice reform more seriously is coming from a number of directions, the article notes. A group of about 50 attorneys came together in 2017 to request more protections for juvenile offenders. The Maryland Juvenile Lifer Parole Representation Project offers pro bono legal services to juvenile offenders in jail. “Our goal is not only to provide individual representation, but to unleash these large firm lawyers on this system,” explained Murphy.
The state is also currently defending itself against a 2016 federal lawsuit, brought by the ACLU, that challenges the constitutionality of Maryland’s parole scheme for juveniles. The case remains pending.