The Basics of Parole

Learn about early release from prison.

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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.

Grant of Parole

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.

Victim Involvement

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.

Parole Factors

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:

  • the severity of the original offense and any sentencing recommendations affecting parole
  • the prisoner’s behavior while incarcerated
  • statements submitted by victims, and
  • a prisoner’s chance for successful reintegration into the community.

Typical Parole Conditions

Parolees must follow a series of requirements in order to remain out of custody. (See Parole Conditions.) Among the rules are requirements that they:

  • obey all laws
  • report regularly to a parole officer
  • report their whereabouts (some parolees are required to wear electronic monitoring devices that track their location)
  • obtain permission in advance for travel out of the county
  • submit to random searches of their homes, cars, and persons (including blood, urine, and saliva testing, for disease, drugs, or other contraband; see Parole Search Conditions)
  • refrain from using, buying, or selling alcohol or illegal drugs
  • avoid certain people, such as victims, witnesses, gang members, or people with criminal records
  • pay money for court-ordered restitution, and
  • attend classes or counseling sessions, such as court-ordered drug, alcohol treatment, or anger management classes.

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.

Relocation

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:

  • protecting the parolee
  • allowing the parolee the opportunity to work or study
  • permitting the parolee to live closer to family members who can aid in rehabilitation, or
  • permitting the parolee to obtain necessary medical or mental health treatment.

Length of Term

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.

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