Maine’s criminal justice system has been failing its communities for decades. Rather than operating as houses of “correction” and rehabilitation, Maine’s “Corrections” facilities have merely served to warehouse people who break the law. Even people like Brandon Brown are denied clemency, regardless of their tireless efforts to transform themselves and serve others. By failing to shift the focus of the system from one of punishment to one of rehabilitation, Maine has chosen to perpetuate cycles of crime and harm. Now we need to work together to help break those cycles. Maine needs to reestablish parole using evidence-based strategies to improve community safety by incentivizing rehabilitation.
The first reason Maine needs to reestablish parole is because the current system has failed to break the harmful cycle of recidivism. Maine’s recidivism rate recently rose from 24.7% to 30.2%. Ex-prisoners typically return due either to a probation violation or new criminal conduct. While Maine can boast a low recidivism rate compared to the national average, that national average is around 67 percent —meaning that two-thirds of those released from jail or prison will return to a cage within three years.
Secondly, Maine needs parole because current mechanisms for “early release” fail to incentivize rehabilitation. I know that, in an ideal world, people shouldn’t need a reward in order to want to become better people. However, it’s human nature that people respond better to rewards than punishments, and this system does not provide those rewards for rehabilitation.
The “good-time” codes afford time off a convicted person’s sentence for good behavior, participation in rehabilitative programming, and acceptable work performance. So someone can earn the same amount of good time for taking out the trash and mopping floors as another who goes to school, earns a college degree, and turns their life around.
Maine’s commutation clause, which allows convicted persons to petition the governor for early release once they have completed half their sentence, has never been invoked to allow the early release of an incarcerated person, regardless of his or her rehabilitative efforts. It’s a sad joke that shows why Maine received an “F-” from Prison Policy Initiative’s Jorge Renaud in his “Grading the parole release systems of all 50 states.”
The probation system in Maine is primarily a mechanism of supervision and behavior restriction. Not only does it fail to incentivize rehabilitation, it also acts as a stumbling block to reentry, and is handed down by a judge as part of a person’s carceral sentence.
Maine’s Supervised Community Confinement Program (SCCP) enables prisoners to serve up to their last 30 months in a community setting, but it provides wildly disproportionate reentry support based upon a person’s sentence. Someone serving six years could spend about 42 percent of their sentence on SCCP, while someone serving 60 years would — at best — receive that support for merely 4.2 percent of their sentence.
The bottom line: Maine needs to reestablish parole because, without it, the old cycles of recidivism are likely to persist indefinitely, creating new and repeat victims. During the most recent session of Maine’s Legislature, Rep. Jeffrey Evangelos, an independent from Friendship, submitted L.D. 842: “An Act to Reestablish Parole.” After a valiant fight to get it through the House of Representatives and in front of the Maine Senate, the bill died. Thankfully, Evangelos was able to get it revived in an amended form (“Resolve, To Create the Commission To Examine Reestablishing Parole”), and that bill now sits on Gov. Janet Mills’ desk, awaiting her signature to begin the process.
Evangelos’ original bill has an evidence-based foundation, and is flexible enough to accommodate policy recommendations like those detailed in a brief I wrote titled, “Reestablishing Parole in Maine: Improving Community Safety through Incentivized Rehabilitation.” This type of supportive parole is our best chance to get incarcerated people to actively participate in their rehabilitation and transformation. Without it, Maine seems doomed to continue to fail its people inside and outside the prison walls.
Please reach out to state lawmakers and Gov. Mills to call on them to reestablish parole in Maine, utilizing evidence-based practices to ensure maximum success. I hear a whole lot of rhetoric from politicians about how much they want to keep Maine’s communities safe. Now I need your help to see if they will finally back up their words with action.
Leo Hylton is a hospice volunteer, mentor, peer facilitator, K-9 Corrections dog handler, Master’s student, and Executive Secretary of the NAACP in Maine State Prison, Warren. You can reach him at: Leo Hylton #70199, 807 Cushing Road, Warren, ME 04864, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Leo Hylton’s sister, Rosie, is organizing a fundraising campaign to cover tuition expenses for Leo’s pursuit of a Master’s degree via George Mason University. Click here to contribute.