A report released Tuesday shows over the past three decades, life sentences for U.S. prisoners has quadruped. The report also shows that prisoners eligible for parole are waiting much longer, before they are released.
The report was released by a Washington-based organization that advocates for sentencing reform, The Sentencing Project. The organization says Maryland inmates serving parole-eligible life sentences will “face major hurdles”, when it comes time to qualify for parole.
The report found that the total national prison population shrank between 2008 and 2012. During the time period, the crime rate was at a historical low, but this did not keep the life sentences from increasing by 12 percent.
The average time served by paroled lifers, who were convicted of murder has doubled since the 1980s. In the 1980s, the paroled lifers with murder convictions served 11.6 years. When comparing this number to those released between 2000 and 2013, there was a major increase to 23.2 years. These numbers reflect on the eight jurisdictions that were able to produce statistics for the 1980s, excluding Maryland.
The Sentencing Project report shows about 110,000 people throughout the country serving parole-eligible life sentences, including Maryland’s 2,000. The growth of the lifer population is attributed to several factors, including governors, parole boards and lawmakers that have toughened parole policies “effectively increasing prison terms for these individuals.”
According to the report, no lifer has been paroled in Maryland since 1995. State officials dispute this, even though the parole issue is a point of contention in an ongoing lawsuit. A prisoner-rights group, Maryland Restorative Justice Initiative and ACLU of Maryland, filed the lawsuit.
Maryland Governor Larry Hogan has commuted the sentences of three inmates and paroled one other, since he took office two years ago. The commission has commuted the life sentences of eight inmates, since Governor Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.
Maryland is one of only a few states throughout the country, where only the governor can grant parole to inmates serving a life sentence.
Scott Shellenberger, Baltimore County State’s Attorney, opposes efforts to end life-without-parole sentences for juveniles.
“I don’t think those who have committed first-degree murder and first-degree rape deserve a second chance,” Shellenberger said. “I think that in the interest of public safety, the governor, whether a Democrat or Republican, has a duty to protect the citizens of Maryland.”