Former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley sees criminal justice reform as a defining issue of the 2016 presidential campaign, in which he is seeking the Democratic nomination. “Scaling back on mandatory minimum sentences for drug crimes and boosting programs to help prepare prisoners to return home will be major parts of a policy proposal O’Malley’s campaign plans to roll out soon,” the Des Moines Register reported. “What?”, asks Baltimore Sun columnist Dan Rodricks, who asks, “What happened to the zero-tolerance Baltimore mayor who became the no-parole-for-lifers governor of Maryland? Where’s the guy who was once bullish on mandatory minimums?” In 2007, Maryland legislators presented O’Malley with what Rodricks calls a good, common-sense bill that would have improved the state’s approach to low-level, nonviolent drug offenders, many of them addicts who sell drugs to maintain their habits. Instead of forcing those who had committed a second offense to serve a mandatory minimum of 10 years in prison at a cost of $24,000 annually per inmate the bill would have made those offenders eligible for parole after five years. After saying he supported the bill, O’Malley vetoed it. He said he believed “drug-dealing is a violent crime” that needed to be punished.
As for “boosting programs to help prepare prisoners to return home,” O’Malley never had much to say about improving offender re-entry. His predecessor, Republican Bob Ehrlich, was far more enlightened on the subject, proposing a holistic, entrance-to-exit plan for inmates that would have prepared them for successful re-entry while they were incarcerated. Ehrlich got nowhere with that idea during his four years in Annapolis, where he faced a legislature dominated by Democrats. As governor, O’Malley was well known for his no-parole policy for people serving life sentences, even aging lifers who had been recommended for release by the Maryland Parole Commission. O’Malley did not grant parole to any lifers until 2012, and then only under pressure from a new state law, and then to only two of the 59 inmates recommended for release by the commission.