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Abuse parole hearings to be open in future

February 01, 2000|By ANDREA ROWLAND

Parole hearings for domestic abusers convicted in District Court will be open to the public in the future, a Washington County victims' advocate said Tuesday.

Patricia K. Cushwa, chairwoman of the Maryland Parole Commission and co-founder of Citizens Assisting and Sheltering the Abused (CASA) in Hagerstown, pushed for the change to state parole regulations, under which parole hearings involving cases that originated in District Court were closed.

Most cases involving domestic violence are prosecuted as second-degree assault charges in District Court, said Cushwa, of Williamsport.

"I felt it was unfair that we excluded by our own law this great category of victims," she said. "To me it is an equity issue. Why should we say as a society that those victims should not have a voice?"

It is the intent of the state, under the direction of Public Safety Secretary Stuart O. Simms, to give equal access to all crime victims, Cushwa said.

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The first open parole hearing involving a domestic violence offender will be held at the Maryland Correctional Institution in Hagerstown on Feb. 28, the state Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services announced Tuesday.

The offender, Robert Grabenstein of Allegany County, Md., is serving a one year and one day sentence for second-degree assault of his wife.

Under the new statewide initiative, Grabenstein's wife, and the victims who follow, will have the opportunity to influence parole decisions by providing testimony about the extent and duration of abuse, Cushwa said.

She credited CASA's hard work throughout the years with spurring the change in state parole policy.

"I hope that Washington County is proud," Cushwa said.

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