Nineteen years after Darryl Taylor was sentenced to life in Maryland for a murder he says he did not commit, a board of parole commissioners recommended him for release. He never made it out. In 2020, Gov. Larry Hogan rejected his release, overturning the decision of the 11-member parole board. No reasons were given. “That was a crushing feeling,” said Taylor, 50. “You feel like you’re on the verge of having some sort of freedom, and they hand you a piece of paper that just says, ‘no.’ ” For decades, politics has shaped the parole process for those serving life sentences in Maryland. In a tough-on-crime campaign in the 1990s, a governor declared that he would reject all “lifers” for parole even after parole commissioners recommended their release.
The policy, maintained by governors from both parties, left hundreds of prisoners with parole-eligible sentences — the vast majority of them Black men — to grow old and die in prison, the Washington Post reports. Between 1969 and 1994, Maryland paroled 181 lifers. In the following two decades, none. When the murder of George Floyd set off a wave of racial justice activism, 80 percent of Maryland’s lifer population was Black, the highest rate in the nation. Hogan released some prisoners as the coronavirus pandemic took off, but state lawmakers wanted the governor out of the parole process. They voted in December to revoke his authority over parole, taking one of the most concrete steps nationwide to change the prospects of early release for lifers. About one in seven U.S. prisoners --about 203,000 people --are serving life sentences. Nearly half are Black and fewer than a third are white. Although three-quarters of lifers are eligible for early release under certain conditions, an increasingly small fraction have managed to experience freedom before the end of their lives — a legacy of the 1990s, when states pursued “truth in sentencing” laws that drastically curbed parole.