After nearly 50 years, the opportunity for prison inmates to be released on parole could be reinstated in Maine, but the group of lawmakers, criminal justice system advocates and others tasked with assessing the program wants the state to do more to address glaring disparities in the state prison system.

Non-white Mainers are incarcerated at a higher rate than white residents, according to a new report from the 13-member Commission to Examine Reestablishing Parole.

In 2021, 18% of the state’s male prison population and 12% of the female population were non-white, according to year-end data from the Maine Department of Corrections. The state’s overall non-white population, according to U.S. Census data, is less than 6%.

The disparities were even more stark when the commission compared sentence lengths – more non-white Mainers serve longer prison stints than do white prisoners.

“This is a glaring injustice that must be addressed in order to ensure a criminal justice system that is fair and just,” the report states.



Parole and probation are different. A judge can order that a convicted person serve part or all of a sentence under probation – under correctional supervision but outside prison or jail. This is usually included in a judge’s original sentence.

A convicted defendant would apply for parole after serving a portion of their sentence – if approved by a state parole board, an inmate would be released and serve the remainder of their sentence in the community.

Maine offered parole for more than 70 years before the state abolished the program in 1976.

It began in 1913 under a novel “indeterminate” sentencing system, where instead of a fixed sentence, a judge would set a range – five to 10 years for example – during which inmates would be evaluated and could be released.

The system was expanded several times until lawmakers decided to abolish parole and bring back determinate sentencing in the 1970s as part of a new “truth in sentencing” movement, which centered on a belief that definite sentences offer more transparency.

Maine has continued some early-release programs. The Supervised Community Confinement Program was started in the 1990s and is now open to those with 30 months or less left on their sentence. Participants are approved to go to supervised sober living or other treatment programs.

But for Mainers with longer sentences, including those serving life terms (many of whom are non-white), early release isn’t a real option.

“These early release programs that are in statute right now do not serve the people who need parole the most,” said state Sen. Craig Hickman, D-Winthrop, during a presentation of the commission’s report this month. Hickman has been a longtime proponent of parole and served on the commission last year.


The report doesn’t recommend specific mechanisms for early release. Some members indicated that they think parole “is one pathway that is essential for providing early release.” Others suggested expanding the state’s existing supervised release program so more prisoners can benefit.

Former Friendship state Rep. Jeffrey Evangelos suggested a weekend-furlough program that would allow some prisoners to visit loved ones or work so they can build and maintain connections that will help them reintegrate into society when released.


The commission also recommended that the state revive a decades-old program to continually review Maine’s sentencing laws and invest in early-release options for prisoners who no longer pose a threat to the public.

The Maine Criminal Justice Sentencing Institute was created in 1976 when Maine established its current criminal code to provide a “continuing forum” where state leaders could regularly discuss and recommend changes to sentencing laws. The group used to meet every two to three years until the 1990s, according to the report, but it hasn’t met since 2005 because of a lack of adequate funding.

The commission is asking the Legislature to fund the institute so it can meet every two years and be staffed.


“Any attempt to address the disparities … in the criminal justice system must necessarily consider the relationship to criminal sentencing, and the commission believes that the institute will play an essential role in those efforts,” the report stated.

The report does not include racial data on lengths of sentences, but it does include several demographic breakdowns of various corrections department programs.

There were an average of 1,630 people sentenced to a Maine prison in 2022, another 65 people on supervised community release and more than 5,300 on probation.

A large majority – 78% of the men and nearly 88% of the women – on supervised release were white. About 86% of men and 91% of women on probation were white. Less than 8% were non-white.

Meanwhile, about 20% of inmates found to be safety risks and placed in restrictive housing – confined to their cells for 22 hours a day – were non-white.



The commission voted 7-2 in favor of reinstituting parole.

Maine Department of Corrections Commissioner Randall Liberty and Sen. Scott Cyrway, R-Benton, were the two no votes.

Liberty said he believed Maine already had a “workable program” that could be adjusted, without allocating additional resources or creating a new parole system from the ground up, the report states.

The Department of Corrections did not respond to a request to speak with Liberty about his vote.

Cyrway said in the report that parole would conflict with the transparency offered by current procedures to people who are being sentenced, as well as to their victims.

Four members abstained, including Assistant Attorney General Laura Yustak. The Attorney General’s Office declined to make Yustak available to discuss her positions on parole.

Should the state reestablish parole, commission members suggested it also develop non-biased criteria for who can apply and how they’re considered. The report recommends that victims be informed when an inmate makes a parole request and involved as much as they choose to be.

Several organizations advocating for the rights and safety of domestic violence survivors and other crime victims said they could potentially support a parole system that’s implemented safely and fairly. The Maine Coalition Against Sexual Assault says that such a program could benefit survivors who are incarcerated, – the coalition supported more than 133 victims who were behind bars in 2021.

But the coalition also urged the commission to “take great care in determining who would be eligible for parole.” They requested that a parole board include members with clinical experience working with those who have caused sexual harm, and that a board “hear from the survivors themselves, if the survivor wants to speak with them.”

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