Federal Court Clears Way for Juvenile Lifers’ Challenge to Maryland Parole System
Ruling Suggests Current Scheme Unconstitutional as it Denies “Meaningful” Chance for Release Regardless of Individual Merit; Operates Like System of Clemency
EDDIE CONWAY: I’m Eddie Conway. Welcome to The Real News.
I’m down at the federal court building in Baltimore City right now, and they’re hearing an issue in federal court about juvenile life.
SONIA KUMAR: At this hearing, the judge was hearing arguments about whether or not she should allow our lawsuit, on behalf of juveniles serving life with parole sentences, to go forward. And in the hearing, the state presented its arguments about saying that basically there is no case, everything’s fine, it was never broken –- and we’ve also fixed it.
SHARON BLOUNT: I’m here to be of some support for my brother. My brother Shawn… which had been locked up for 33 years.
ANNETTE HASAN: As I wasn’t single, but in actuality I was single, because I had to do everything. You know, I had to work. I had to maintain a family. I had to maintain a home. But I also had a husband that needed my support, you know? And I also believe in Allah. I believe in God, you know, who’s the powerful one who gave me the strength.
EDDIE CONWAY: Well, I’m sitting here, with people that has spend a tremendous amount of time interacting with the criminal justice system, and the department of corrections here in Maryland. And they are down here to support the case for the release of the juveniles. So, I just want to get a sense of what this means for them, and what they think is going to be the outcome.
I’m here with Wayne Bruton’s wife, and we have on the telephone — he’s down at the Jessup Correctional Institute, in Maryland, and he is one of the people that has been organizing around the conditions of lifers, juvenile lifers, and so on.
WALTER LOMAX: What was originally our policy has morphed into a de facto life without parole. And so, why this case is important, is because of the politics that’s been involved in the process.
EDDIE CONWAY: One, how does this juvenile life case affect you? Does it affect you?
WAYNE BRUTON: Yes, it affects me in the area that in the last 25 years, they haven’t had a juvenile lifer that has been paroled in the state of Maryland. I’ve had two parole… subsequent parole hearings. As a matter of fact, I was in the process of going into the pre-release work release programs, when it was suspended.
MARY BROWNBAY: We are very supportive of all lifers, juveniles and otherwise. But we today really understand, more importantly, our forefront in being where the women are concerned, because this is something that we talk about every day. We talk about how we never see any impact for women who are incarcerated, right? They’re all women, many of them, who have life sentences. Right?
ETTA MYERS: Women have gotten a worse deal, because they are acknowledged, and because I am a woman of worth. I see myself as a soldier, and so therefore I struggle in the war with the brothers, as well.
EDDIE CONWAY: How old were you when you got locked up, Wayne?
WAYNE BRUTON: I was 17.
EDDIE CONWAY: Okay. And so, how long ago was that? How long have you been in the prison system?
WAYNE BRUTON: Thirty-eight years.
EDDIE CONWAY: Thirty-eight years. So, under normal circumstances, you should’ve got parole when? Twenty years ago?
WAYNE BRUTON: Yeah, roughly 20 years ago.
EDDIE CONWAY: Okay. And how many times did you go up for parole, so far?
WAYNE BRUTON: I’ve been up for parole two times, at 1992…
EDDIE CONWAY: Okay, what happened?
WAYNE BRUTON: …I was recommended for lesser security, and I was in the process of going to the pre-release work release system. Until the former Governor Glendening suspended the work release program, and suspended parole for all lifers. Not only just juveniles, but all lifers in the state of Maryland, and I just went up again November, the 14th.
EDDIE CONWAY: And what happened?
WAYNE BRUTON: And it was recommended for a Risk Assessment, and I was told by the two commissions that my paperwork would be sent to the inbox, or I will be sent to the camp system, which they just recently reinstated for juvenile offenders. However, it doesn’t go in effect until the end of 2017.
SONIA KUMAR: It’s not just international law. Our contention is that the 8th Amendment, the U.S. law, the U.S. Constitution, treats as cruel and unusual punishment, mand… life without parole for kids, except in the most rare circumstances.
The Supreme Court has said that, and it reflects… I think it’s an opinion that’s consistent with, sort of international human rights, and basic rights framework.
So, there’s, of course, a moral argument. But there’s also a constitution argument, which means that what our allegation is that what the state’s doing is illegal. It violates the 8th amendment.
EDDIE CONWAY: How old was he when he got locked up?
SHARON BLOUNT: He was 15 and a half.
EDDIE CONWAY: He was 15 and a half. And so he’s been in jail –- you say for 33 years?
SHARON BLOUNT: He was 16 years old. He’d been locked up for 33 years.
EDDIE CONWAY: Okay. And has he ever went up for parole?
SHARON BLOUNT: He’d been up a couple of times. And he was set back to come back, and also he went up in 2015. And he was waiting… so he’s waiting, so we’re hoping right now that he be one of the ones that has a chance to be released.
EDDIE CONWAY: I spent 44 years in prison myself, with your brother.
SHARON BLOUNT: Yeah.
EDDIE CONWAY: And… and the rest of the guys, right? But I can’t imagine how this must be to somebody outside, that you grew up, and you got a brother, and all of a sudden he disappears, and he’s been gone for your entire adult life.
SHARON BLOUNT: Well, it was traumatizing for me, because we’re a year apart. We’re very close. We feel close. We’re a close-knit family anyway. And we was very traumatized about him being wrongfully accused, you know, at that young age. We were thinking that he was coming home, but he didn’t. You know, in the process of him being locked up, incarcerated, my mom and dad passed away.
They was hoping for him to come home. We have nieces and nephews, siblings, all us out, rooting for him to come home. We miss him. We love him. He’s very supportive in there.
EDDIE CONWAY: Well, the… have… this… you… you’re talking almost four decades. How… has this impacted your family?
WAYNE BRUTON: Absolutely. Absolutely. Sometimes we tend to forget that when we come into these prison systems, we bring our whole family with us. You know, it’s just through the grace of God that I have a wonderful wife who supports me wholeheartedly.
I have good family support, and I have good friends. That is my motivation now. That’s what keeps me going. That’s what keeps me strong.
EDDIE CONWAY: Okay, well your wife is here, right now, sitting beside me. I’m just going to ask her a couple of questions. Have this been a hardship on you, and exactly what kind of hardship has it been, if that’s so?
MRS. BRUTON: Yes, it has been a hardship on me. It’s times when, for instance, his mom passed, and he wasn’t there. And…
EDDIE CONWAY: You had to do it?
MRS. BRUTON: Yes. Yes, and we have his friend Hasan here, who’s been very supportive in his life, with his mom passed.
EDDIE CONWAY: Have that kind of, have it been an economic hardship on you also?
MRS. BRUTON: Yes, it has. As far as paying bills, sending him money for commissary, it’s been a big hardship. And then I took sick, so I had to stop working and went on disability, and that made it even harder to try to keep up with the bills that I had to pay.
EDDIE CONWAY: And the phone. The phone –- just making phone calls itself, and putting that money on the phone has got to be really rough, if you don’t have a lot of people in that support network doing that. Isn’t that true?
MRS. BRUTON: Yes. It starts off $25, and up, for the first calls for then.
EDDIE CONWAY: I actually have person knowledge that you have been a close friend of Wayne Bruton’s for, like, years.
KAREEM HASAN: Yeah.
EDDIE CONWAY: And… and since you’ve been released, you’ve been very supportive of him. Tell me what you’ve been doing on his behalf, and why?
KAREEM HASAN: Well, phone calls, contacting the people he needs. He need me run… when he went to court, I was there for him. And why, is because, I myself went to prison when I was a juvenile. And growing up with — while inside the jail, you see the change in him, just like a seen a change in myself, and I know that he deserves some of this –- this freedom.
EDDIE CONWAY: Okay. You are married to Hasan that I just interviewed, and tell me how long you’ve been married to him –- for the second time –- and how long you have been working and supporting him?
ANNETTE HASAN: Well, I’ve been with him for like, 38 years. We have been married one time in 1996, and we got a divorce because he was granted to come home, but then when they pulled back all the lifers, he was among them.
So, he was the one that said, “Go on about your business and leave me alone.” And I didn’t do it, because I believed in him. So, since then, we’ve been together. Then he came home in 2013, we got married last year, and we’ve been married since then, happily married.
KAREEM HASAN: When I was in, we had a program called Positive Change. You know? And we was going around the jail mentoring youth, or pick certain youth and mentoring them, and change their perception. That’s why it was called Positive Change. Trying to change their perception from negative to positive.
You know, and Wayne was very, very instrumental in that. And we also wrote a book together, explaining our life through the system, and hoping that somebody read it and will change their life, for some of the brothers that’s in there, when they go in as juveniles.
ANNETTE HASAN: He has accomplished so much. I’m so proud of him. I don’t even know how to tell him, thank you for staying positive, for staying success, for… because some guys don’t do that, because they can’t adjust to society, like he’s done.
He even came home, he has a job, he has his license, he has a home, he has a wife, he has kids, he has grandkids that loves him. He’s just awesome.
EDDIE CONWAY: But do you think those two to three hundred juvenile lifers that’s been in there for 30 to almost 40 years now, do you think they represent any kind of danger to society, if they’re released?
ANNETTE HASAN: No. I have… to make a long story short, I have a son who’s a… he’s an adult now, but he was a juvenile, and he’s in jail. Again, a lot of juveniles, we missus, understand a lot of juveniles; because a lot of juveniles, they don’t need to be incarcerated. They just need a strong backboard, which the system fails to represent them the way they should represent them. They feel as thought correcting them, is putting them in prison, and it’s not.
What you’re actually doing when you put juveniles in prison, you’re either setting them up to be killed in prison, or you’re setting them up not to be productive, you know? They deserve a second chance. I don’t think no juveniles should be given life. A juvenile is still a baby. At least they have to grow to be a man, and putting them in prison is not going to do it. It’s not going to do it.
REPORTER: The men who are the plaintiffs in the case, what have they done while they’ve been in prison that you think that shows that they should have this chance?
WALTER LOMAX: They met all the basic requirements of… that’s required for one to receive a recommendation for parole, you know? However, but because of the policy that’s been in place, none of them have been able to avail themselves of the necessary programs, such as the work release, family leave, and pre-release system.
EDDIE CONWAY: Do you think that you have taken advantage of all the programs that the prison system offers you? You have went to school, you’ve done all the self-help and self-improvement programs? Do you think it’s anything else left in the prison system that can help you?
WAYNE BRUTON: There’s nothing left, there’s nothing left I could do. Basically, the concept of rehabilitation has been obsolete over the years, because we’re basically doing time. You know? We never once–
EDDIE CONWAY: … you’re saying you’re just getting warehoused now?
WAYNE BRUTON: Absolutely, even when you go in front of case management.
EDDIE CONWAY: Uh huh.
WOMAN: The first thing they deal with… they will listen to there, is that your sentence is that you’re serving a life sentence.
There is nothing you can do. You can’t get involved in any programs. All the programs that I’ve been involved in, we have created. Incarcerated citizens have created these programs. It’s not nothing that the administration has given, we have to rehabilitate ourselves.
EDDIE CONWAY: Okay. So, last month, we did a story when you and the ACOU(?) filed papers, and we were waiting for a decision from the judge. Could you kinda, like, update us what happened?
SONIA KUMAR: Sure. So, we have filed suit on behalf of juveniles serving life sentences in Maryland. The state moved to dismiss the case, and last month there was a hearing on the state’s motion to dismiss the case. And so, the issue before the judge was, can the case go forward or not? And on Friday the judge issued a really favorable ruling, holding that the case can go forward, and rejecting the state’s arguments that the case has no legal merit.
I also just want to let you know that there is a hearing on the legislation that’s been introduced every year, to take the governor out of the parole process, and restore the final decision to the Parole Commission. The first hearing is scheduled for February 14th, at 1:00 p.m., in Annapolis.
EDDIE CONWAY: Okay, Valentine’s Day.
SONIA KUMAR: Valentine’s… Happy Valentine’s Day, from Annapolis.
EDDIE CONWAY: Yes.
SONIA KUMAR: Will be the first hearing in Annapolis this year on the bill to take…
EDDIE CONWAY: Okay. And that’s the first reading to find out if it can come out of the Committee?
SONIA KUMAR: That’s — exactly… that’s the hearing where everybody will testify before the committee, as to why they should vote one way or another.
EDDIE CONWAY: So, the public really needs to be down there, if you got some interest…
SONIA KUMAR: The public really needs to be down there. If you care about this bill, this is a really important day to be in Annapolis.
EDDIE CONWAY: Okay. Thank you.
SONIA KUMAR: Thank you!
EDDIE CONWAY: Okay.