Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley has kept his promise and allowed the Inmates - Life Improvement - Parole Approval bill (House Bill 302) to pass without his signature. So, the bill became law Saturday, October 1, 2011. The bill has ignited optimism and skepticism.
"We have been waiting and praying every step of the way since the bill was first in the House, then in the Senate, and at the governor’s desk," wrote my girlfriend Ivy Alston. (We met after she read my articles in Port of Harlem. Read our full story in the Nov 2009 to Apr 2010 issue of Port of Harlem.)
Advocates have been pushing for the bill, known to many as the lifer bill, since the early 1970s. In 1993, following an incident involving a work release prisoner who committed murder/suicide, 134 lifers where summarily removed from prerelease and work release programs and placed back in maximum security. In September 1995, then Governor Glendening stood outside the Maryland House of Corrections and made his infamous “Life Means Life” speech. In the declaration, he pledged to reject any parole recommendation for anyone serving a life term.
For lifers, like myself, and our supporters, this was a brazen statement. The statement helped launch a concerted campaign by inmates, our families, concerned citizens and the Maryland Restorative Justice Initiative to push the bill through the Maryland legislature. In early 2011, the House bill roughly passed 74-66, but the bill easily passed the Senate.