An effort to restore parole in Maine appears headed for defeat despite hours of impassioned testimony earlier this year in support of giving people in prison an opportunity to better themselves and reenter society.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Anne Beebe-Center, D-Rockland, sought to restore parole as an option for incarcerated individuals for the first time since 1976, when Maine became the first state in the nation to end early release for reformed inmates.

The Legislature’s Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee voted 6-5 Monday against the most recent version of the bill, L.D. 178, which had been amended to address concerns from victims’ advocates. Two committee members, one from each party, were not present and have 48 hours to cast their votes.

The measure also faces ongoing opposition from Gov. Janet Mills, who has argued that Maine’s legal system already allows for early reentry into society by giving judges discretion to suspend portions of sentences. The state also has a program that allows people who have served at least a two-thirds of their sentence to participate in a supervised community confinement program when they have less than 30 months remaining.

With a veto almost certain if the bill passed, it needed support from both Democrats and Republicans, and the committee vote suggested that support is not there. Two Democrats voted against it.

Rep. Tavis Hasenfus, D-Readfield, was one of them. Before the vote, he proposed scrapping the parole proposal in favor of opening up the state’s existing supervised community confinement program to more inmates by removing the requirement that an inmate needs to have less than 30 months remaining on their sentence to participate.


Rep. Suzanne Salisbury, D-Westbrook, said the proposal, even the amended version, didn’t do enough to consider the impact on victims.

“I would like to thank (the Department of Corrections), Sen. Beebe-Center and the Parole 4 Me advocates for their work on L.D. 178. This was a huge initiative, but at this time I could not support the bill in its current form,” she said. “My focus is on balancing the needs of the victims while honoring the judicial process along with the needs of the incarcerated.”

Beebe-Center could not be reached for an interview after the committee vote.

Maine is one of only 16 states – and the only state in New England – that does not grant parole. However, the state continues to have a five-member parole board to consider requests from a small number of living inmates sentenced before May 1, 1976, who are eligible for parole.

Beebe-Center’s bill, which was co-sponsored by House Minority Leader Billy Bob Faulkingham, R-Winter Harbor, was informed by recommendations from a special study group looking to reestablish parole. The proposal would have established a seven-member parole board to decide who has earned supervised release before the end of their prison sentence.

To be eligible for parole, a person would have needed to serve at least 20 years of a life sentence or one-third of a sentence from one to 60 years. And the board would have had to find that the individual is unlikely to violate the law and that granting parole “is not incompatible with the welfare of society.”


In March, a diverse group of more than 100 supporters, ranging from prison reformers to religious leaders, argued in a lengthy, six-hour public hearing that parole offers people in jail hope and incentive to work on improving themselves, so they can be reintegrated into society. They also argued parole would save the state money. It costs the state roughly $76,000 to keep one person in jail for a year.


Opponents criticized the original proposal, arguing that Maine’s current criminal justice system has programs in place to honor inmates for good behavior. They say judges have discretion to suspend portions of people’s sentences, while imposing conditions of probation when they’re released. The state also has a supervised community release program to ease an inmate’s reentry into society at the end of their sentence.

Among those who spoke out against the bill was Maine Attorney General Aaron Frey, who along with several crime victims criticized the original proposal for being slanted too heavily toward people who are incarcerated, while not considering the needs and input of victims, who they said would be likely experience ongoing trauma through parole hearings.

The bill has undergone several revisions to address this concern, but Mills continues to oppose the proposal over concerns about how parole would impact victims, a spokesperson said.

“While the governor supports criminal justice reform efforts that advance the rehabilitation of incarcerated individuals, consistent with their sentences as decided by a judge, she is troubled by the lack of consideration given to victims of these crimes and their families,” Ben Goodman said.

“Under parole, innocent individuals would be repeatedly subjected to the possibility that the offender will be released, forcing them to relive the crime at every parole hearing,” he continued. “Victims and their families deserve better. The governor supports Maine’s existing Supervised Community Confinement Program.”

Democrats control both chambers of the Legislature, but do not hold enough seats to overcome a veto without Republican support. The bill will proceed to the Senate floor, where senators could try to salvage it. But the split committee vote foreshadows long odds.

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