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Parole Reform Bill Inches Closer To Approval

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The House of Delegates gave preliminary approval Wednesday to a bill that would take the governor out of the parole process for inmates serving life terms.

The bill, sponsored by Del. Luke Clippinger, a Baltimore Democrat, would increase from 15 to 20 years the time inmates sentenced to life must serve before they are eligible for parole while removing the requirement for the governor’s approval.

Explaining the bill on the House floor, Clippinger described the lengthy process of interviews, investigations and hearings the state’s parole commission carries out before it sends a recommendation to the governor’s desk.

 “And what has happened a great deal since the mid-90s,” he said, “is that it hasn’t gone anywhere.”

During the debate, Democrats beat back several attempts by Republicans to amend the bill. One would have increased the time an inmate with a life sentence must serve to 25 years before being eligible for parole. Another would have gradually phased the governor out of the process based on the number of years an inmate had served, and a third would have required unanimous approval by the parole commission.

Clippinger said lawmakers have been dealing for years with the issue of inmates being unable to make parole because governors have refused to sign off on parole commission decisions.

“To effectively put a political stop at the end of that when the sentence that they received is  life with the possibility of parole isn't right, and isn't what we should be doing,” he argued. 

He said 47 other states have removed their governors from the process.