In 2018, the Maryland Parole Commission held more than 7,000 parole hearings. Most of the people up for parole have no support to prepare for their hearings because there is no public funding for such support and most inmates can’t afford an attorney. Elizabeth Finne wants to change that with the Parole Preparation Project.
Finne is working to develop infrastructure that provides support to everyone up for parole. While this would not guarantee that any given individual will get parole—there are too many variables for that—it would ensure that people are given an opportunity to make their best case. Moreover, Finne believes that strong preparation for parole can help keep people from being reincarcerated after they are released.
“Preparing for parole is preparing for the future,” Finne explains. One of the ways to prepare for a parole hearing is by putting together a parole packet, which sets out the ways a person is a good candidate. It includes a plan for employment, housing, and reentry—essentially a strong foundation for life on the outside.
Finne started out as a lawyer in the U.K. before moving to the U.S. in 2008 with her husband, who is in the U.S. Navy. While getting her master’s degree in law and government at American University, she took a class called Women, Crime, and the Law. The class brought her to the Maryland Correctional Institution for Women (MCIW) as a volunteer helping prisoners write college philosophy papers. Later, Finne served as the administrator of the prison college degree program (which is now the Goucher Prison Education Partnership) and later as a member of the board of the organization supporting the college program.
While serving on the board, Finne met Mary Joel Davis, who would become a mentor and inspiration for her. Davis, who has worked in re-entry for more than four decades founded Second Chance for Women in 2019 to assist women at MCIW prepare their parole cases. Finne left Maryland in 2012 because of her husband’s Navy service, but she stayed in touch with Davis. When she moved back to Maryland in 2019, Finne began working with Davis, meeting with women in prison to provide guidance on their parole cases. “But the demand outstripped the supply,” says Finne. They began thinking about how to provide more support to more people.
Then COVID-19 hit. Unable to meet with incarcerated women in person, Finne and Davis began corresponding with their clients by mail. While there were some logistical challenges around how long it took for letters to reach clients and vice versa, exchanging letters worked well overall. Finne began thinking about how to use that model to scale the work of Second Chance.
With the OSI Community Fellowship, Finne plans to develop a model with the potential for every inmate in Maryland to have some level of access to support and guidance in preparation for parole hearings. She seeks to develop a network of volunteers trained to help inmates prepare their parole packets, be able to advocate directly to the parole commission on behalf of inmates, and meet with family members of inmates and connect them to the parole commission.
As a resource for incarcerated people and those providing support to them, including family members, friends, and volunteers, Finne has written a soon-to-be-published guide entitled “Preparing for Parole in Maryland.” The book provides detailed guidance on how to prepare for parole hearings as well as a history of incarceration and parole. It will be distributed to prison libraries across Maryland and sold on Amazon.
Finne plans to turn the Parole Preparation Project into a 501(c)3 and ask criminologists to study the pilot group. She wants to demonstrate that helping people prepare for parole hearings can give them a better chance at getting parole and make them less likely to return to prison once they are released.
“I’m not of the view that the criminal justice system is beyond redemption,” Finne says. “There is so much energy now for reform. Offering people the opportunity to volunteer would be a very practical way to harness some of that energy.”