Juneteenth, Criminal Justice Reform, and Maryland Parole: A Path Towards Equality and Redemption

Justice Policy Institute
3 min readJun 18, 2023

By: Rebecca Wong

This year marks the 156th Anniversary of Juneteenth, which commemorates the anniversary of when the news of President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation reached Galveston, Texas to liberate all enslaved people. Juneteenth represents not only a cause for celebration but also an opportunity to reflect on the progress we have yet to make. Parallel to the gap between Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation and the enactment of his statute, there is often a significant gap between promises of liberation and reality. While slavery was emancipated de jure, the shadows of a racialized caste system continue to persist in America, particularly through mass incarceration and the disproportionate overrepresentation of Black Americans.

While Black Americans represent 13% of the American population, they make up over 38% of the incarcerated population. This disparity is largely due to over-policing and the state’s hyper surveillance of Black Americans. Without anti-racist policy, race-blind policy will continue to widen racial disparities in our carceral system. In the United States:

These racial disparities are reminiscent of a system initially designed to recapture enslaved people. Without enacting deliberate policies to counteract the criminal justice system’s racist history, these patterns will continue to divide the Two Americas that Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke of.

While the Thirteenth Amendment abolished slavery, it also created the convict leasing system, Black codes, and Jim Crow laws which all restricted the rights of Black Americans and justice-involved people, particularly through the criminalization of poverty and enforcement of civic death.

There are several components to reimagining a more fair and just carceral system, one where policy, practice, and reality are aligned. One such area is the role of parole in rehabilitation and reintegration.

Parole inefficiencies prevent individuals from benefiting from the full potential that reentry can offer them. For example, Maryland, a state that leads the nation in system-based racial disparities, has a 39 percent grant rate. This rate drops off precipitously for individuals who are serving longer prison sentences — a cohort that typically enters the prison system before their 25th birthday, and is predominately black. The Justice Policy Institute spoke with a broad spectrum of stakeholders and reported on the state of parole in Maryland and offered best practices for how to improve parole practices.

This research uncovered that inefficiencies in the current system are leading to continued incarceration beyond any public safety benefit. The promise of a parole hearing, for many, is being outweighed by the currently flawed release-decision-making practices. A continued reflection of the promises versus the realities of a just system.

While parole offers a second chance to incarcerated individuals, the delayed national recognition of Juneteenth offers the United States a second chance at repairing the damage caused by its history of slavery. Further advocacy of racial justice in civic society is necessary and increased advocacy around racial justice in the criminal justice system must remain a priority too. As we commemorate the end of slavery, Juneteenth serves as a powerful reminder of the long and arduous journey toward equality. By recognizing the historical context and the systemic injustices that persist, we can shape reform efforts that address racial disparities head-on. This includes renewing our commitment to fair parole practices and advancing equality like what is needed within Maryland’s criminal justice system.

As we reflect on the significance of Juneteenth, it becomes clear that we must learn from history to guide our present. It is imperative that we address racial disparities, promote fair practices, and work towards a more equitable and just criminal justice system in Maryland and beyond. We must support initiatives aimed at dismantling systemic barriers and fostering a society that truly values justice and equality, not just on Juneteenth, but every day of the year.



Justice Policy Institute

Reducing society’s reliance on incarceration and the justice system. We inform policymakers, advocates and the media about fair and effective justice reforms.