With the release of a comprehensive 240-page report, the return of parole to Maine’s correctional system seems more likely, though still far from a sure thing.
The Maine Legislature’s parole study commission convened last year issued its final report on Jan. 30 that includes an ambitious set of recommendations, though not all received unanimous support.
The commission was an outgrowth of a 2021 bill, LD 842, from then-Rep. Jeff Evangelos (I-Friendship), who proposed reinstating parole opportunities for all those incarcerated in state institutions.
Maine’s Legislature first established a system of parole in 1913, allowing for an incarcerated person’s sentencing period to be reevaluated by corrections officers after serving a minimum length of time. Parole was abolished in Maine in 1976.
A unanimous recommendation came for expansion of the existing early release program, which allows inmates with 30 months or fewer of their sentence to serve the remainder in home confinement. Criminal justice reform advocate Brandon Brown (see “Brandon Brown and the Case for Parole in Maine,” Portland Phoenix, Jan. 12, 2022) was released under existing terms.
Evangelos convinced commissioners to include reinstatement of a weekend furlough program.
“It would allow fathers to get to know their kids, and mothers to hold their children, sometimes for the first time,” he said.
Also gaining strong support was a new Criminal Law Revision Commission, which once made frequent suggestions for legal changes, but lapsed in 2005.
On the critical vote for parole, the commissioners divided 7-2 in favor, with Corrections Commissioner Randall Liberty and Sen. Scott Cyrway (R-Winslow) opposed. The co-chairs, Sen. Craig Hickman (D-Winthrop) and Rep. Charlotte Warren (D-Hallowell) voted in the majority.
Of the four legislators on the commission, only Hickman is still serving in the same position. The others were term-limited.
Two commissioners who abstained, Superior Court Judge William Stokes and District Attorney Natasha Irving, did so because of their current role, according to Evangelos. Irving personally supports parole, but was representing the District Attorneys Association, which has not taken a position on parole reinstatement.
On that point, the report concluded that its work “focused primarily on issues surrounding the reestablishment of parole, but parole is only one piece of a much larger conversation . . . The work of this commission is a beginning, not an end.”
The Judiciary Committee that received the report can introduce legislation to adopt its findings. Advocates have already submitted their own bill, LD 178, sponsored by Sen. Pinny Beebe-Center (D-Rockland), a concept draft.
Evangelos said the bill’s language will eventually include full implementation of the commission’s findings, including hearing eligibility for all inmates, and specific victim’s rights provisions.
He’s optimistic about passage of a strong bill, pointing to support from Rep. Billy Bob Faulkingham (R-Winterport), the House minority leader.
“We heard from supporters all over the country,” Evangelos said. “Of the dozens of people who testified, only two were opposed. People want a system that recognizes rehabilitation, and provides hope.”