Parole is conditional release from prison before the end of a sentence. Parolees remain under supervision until the end of a fixed term, and they normally have significant and strict conditions they must comply with to remain at liberty. Parole department officers supervise parolees; the parole department is usually an arm of the state’s prison agency.
There is no parole in the federal system; a federal prisoner earns “good time” credits for behaving in prison but still has to serve at least 85% of a sentence.
Judges usually aren’t the ones to release prisoners on parole. Decisions to grant and revoke parole are made by a group of prison officials called a parole board. But in some cases, parolees have the right to appeal the decisions of the parole board to a court or to a board of appeals within the parole agency.
In many states, victims or their surviving family members have a right to be notified that the prisoner who harmed them is eligible for parole and has an upcoming parole hearing. The victims can submit their views to the parole board either in writing or by making a personal appearance at the hearing.
Although the decision to grant parole is ultimately a subjective one, parole boards are usually required to consider a prescribed set of factors in making the determination. These factors typically include:
Parolees must follow a series of requirements in order to remain out of custody. (See Parole Conditions.) Among the rules are requirements that they:
If the parole board finds that the parolee violated his parole conditions, parole can be revoked, in which case the parolee returns to prison to serve all or most of the remainder of the sentence. If the parolee violates parole by committing another crime, the parolee can be forced to serve the remainder of the original sentence (as a parole violation) and then serve a sentence for the new conviction.
Parole conditions typically prevent a parolee from moving from one county to another within the same state without permission from a parole officer. Reasons that might incline a parole officer to grant a request for a move include:
Parole terms vary widely and are a function of the length of time left to serve on the original sentence. Parole may be as short as a year or as long as a lifetime. Upon evidence of good behavior, a parole board may terminate parole before its scheduled end.
Parole law varies by state, and this article doesn’t exhaust all issues. If you have questions about it or want to know how the law applies to you, consider speaking with a qualified lawyer. A knowledgeable lawyer will be able to more fully explain the law. Online research might also provide you with some basics on your state—for example, some government and nonprofit websites provide accurate and helpful information.