For the first time in 24 years, individuals sentenced to life in a correctional facility for crimes they committed before turning 18 are being paroled by a Maryland governor.
This shift in policy for juvenile lifers by Gov. Larry Hogan, R, is unprecedented in the state's recent history.
"The governor talked about this issue in his original campaign, and it's something that he gives serious attention to," Hogan Administration Deputy Legal Counsel Chris Mincher said in an interview with Capital News Service.
A press secretary for Hogan said the governor would not comment, and said Mincher is the "on-the-record spokesperson" for the administration regarding juvenile paroles.
Hogan's decision to implement parole for juvenile lifers comes after 24 years of rejections for this group by the previous three governors, a trend that started with Gov. Parris Glendening in 1995.
Navarus Mayhew, 42, is scheduled to be released this month after 24 years in prison for first-degree murder, robbery and gun charges. Robert Davis, 54, who served 37 years for first-degree felony murder and handgun charges has been recently released, a Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services spokesman said Thursday. Shawn Delco Goodman, 42, will likely be released in December after 27 years behind bars for first-degree murder and robbery charges, according to Maryland Parole Commission records.
Hogan approved paroles for two of the men and allowed the third to happen without his signature.
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Prisoners sentenced to life in prison as both adults and juveniles have been released through other measures of executive clemency, like commutation, which allows the governor rather than the parole commission to set the terms of release.
Until the Hogan administration, parole hadn't been implemented for any lifer adult or juvenile since Gov. William Donald Schaefer, D, Glendening's immediate predecessor. A number of inmates' life sentences had been commuted, however.
In the 2012 U.S. Supreme Court case Miller v. Alabama, sentencing a minor to life without the possibility of parole was deemed cruel and unusual. A 2016 suit, Montgomery v. Louisiana, declared that the 2012 ruling be applied retroactively, effectively eliminating the sentence for juveniles.
In 2016, the ACLU of Maryland filed a federal class action lawsuit against Hogan on behalf of the Maryland Restorative Justice Initiative and three incarcerated juvenile lifers. The three juvenile lifers in the ACLU suit are not the 2019 parolees.
The lawsuit states that Maryland's process of juvenile lifer parole denied "meaningful opportunity for release," therefore violating constitutional protections against cruel and unusual punishment.
There are currently more than 300 individuals sentenced to life who are imprisoned for crimes they committed before the age of 18 in Maryland facilities. The ACLU suit is pending.
More than two decades ago, Glendening, a Democrat, set a precedent with his "life means life" stance based on the "tough on crime" political climate of the era.
Forty-nine lifers have been released from incarceration since Glendening took office. Nine of them were paroled for medical reasons. Ten parolees were juveniles.
Gov. Robert Ehrlich, R, commuted three adult and two juvenile lifers and paroled no lifers.
During Democrat Gov. Martin O'Malley's eight years in office, two adults and one juvenile sentenced to life were released by commutation; he did not parole any lifers.
Hogan has commuted the sentences of four juveniles and 17 adults as of last month, and has approved parole for eight adult and three juvenile lifers.
Nine other individuals were released for medical parole. This happens when a lifer is chronically ill and expected to die, and are no longer considered a threat to society. They are released to a hospital, hospice care or family members.
Glendening did administer five medical paroles, however one was revoked in 2002.
Glendening acknowledges his decision to block paroles for lifers was political, but has since stated that he made an error in judgment.
There have been attempts to remove the governor's hand from the state's process in recent years. In 2017, parole reform legislation that would dismiss the governor from the process was passed in the state House of Delegates, but failed to advance in the Senate. This past session, a similar bill made little headway in either chamber.
Legislators are turning their eyes to 2020 _ some with the hope that more advancement could be made this time around.
The bill's former House sponsor, Delegate Pam Queen, D-Montgomery, said in an interview with Capital News Service last month that there are plans for similar legislation in the upcoming session, and is looking to the Senate and its new president, Bill Ferguson, D-Baltimore, to determine what will or won't make it through.
Though too early to tell, lawmakers are looking to have the 2020 iteration of the bill sponsored by a member of the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee. According to the chief of staff for Sen. Delores G. Kelley, D-Baltimore, a previous sponsor of the legislation, they are aiming for the bill to include new measures to account for family and victim concerns.
Despite the lack of traction in Annapolis, Queen does acknowledge that progress has been made, pointing to the administration's recent announcement that the state would begin the process of compensating five men, convicted as adults, who wrongfully served lengthy prison sentences.
"It took (Hogan) a little while to get to that point where he agreed to do something now with those five individuals," said Queen, "but we can only hope that that's the case and with those recent changes, at last, we'll get a different look."
In 2018, Hogan signed an executive order addressing juvenile lifers specifically, requiring that the governor weigh the same elements as the Maryland Parole Commission when considering parole, as well as the inmate's age at the time of the offense and any signs of maturity or transformative rehabilitation.
Attempts to find and contact attorneys, family members of victims, and parolees have not been successful, or individuals have declined to comment.