Parole imposes significant restrictions on parolees, people who have been released from prison on the condition that they abide by certain conditions. The conditions parolees have to live with are supposed to allow the authorities to retain some control and supervision while the parolee reintegrates into society.
Common parole conditions include:
reporting regularly to a supervising officer
living within a defined area and not leaving without permission
promptly notifying a supervising officer of changes in employment status
not possessing any guns or other weapons
agreeing to law enforcement searches of one’s residence, possessions, and self, and
not breaking the law.
Many parole conditions, like several listed above, are general. Others are imposed case by case and are specifically tailored to the offender. Examples of these “special” conditions include treatment for drugs or alcohol and submitting to electronic monitoring.
A couple Pennsylvania statutes provide an example of a setup for parole conditions. One statute lays out general parole conditions for all parolees. (37 Pa. Code § 63.4 (2017).) Another requires that parolees abide by special conditions that the Parole Board or a parole agent imposes. (37 Pa. Code § 63.5 (2017).)
The second Pennsylvania statute also explains that a parolee with parole-condition problems or questions must consult the parole agent, who is responsible for helping the parolee interpret conditions. (The law mentions that a parolee who is unable to contact the parole agent should contact the agent in charge of the district parole office.) (37 Pa. Code § 63.5 (2017).)
The government has a good deal of leeway in setting parole and supervised release conditions, which are designed to ensure public safety and help former prisoners live productive, law-abiding lives.
On the state level, statutes often give authorities significant discretion in creating conditions. There are limits, though, on what entities like parole boards can require. The conditions generally have to be related to the parolee's reentry into society and can’t unfairly restrict any fundamental rights. (Harris v. State, 836 N.E.2d 267 (Ind. Ct. App. 2005).)
In one California case, for instance, an appeals court held that a condition of parole that stopped a parolee from “possessing or having access to computers, the Internet, or camera equipment” without permission from the supervising parole department was valid. The court reasoned that the parolee had committed offenses involving computer use and had intentionally prevented the authorities from determining whether the Internet was involved in one of his offenses. Important to the ruling was that the parolee hadn’t been completely banned from using the Internet. (In re Hudson, 143 Cal. App. 4th 1 (2006).)
In another California case, though, an appeals court struck down a condition preventing a parolee from using computers and the Internet. The court explained that the condition was too broad and didn’t have anything to do with the conviction, which was for lewd conduct on a child under age 14 and didn’t involve computer use. (In re Stevens, 119 Cal. App. 4th 1228 (2004).)
Similarly, in federal cases, courts have broad discretion to impose special conditions of supervised release. But such conditions must relate to:
the circumstances of the offense and the offender’s history and characteristics
deterrence of future criminal activity
protection of society from the offender, or
educational or career training, medical treatment, or other correctional treatment for the offender.
The conditions in federal cases aren’t supposed to restrict the former prisoner’s liberty any more than necessary, and have to be consistent with relevant sentencing policy. (United States v. Bowers, 847 F.3d 1280 (10th Cir. 2017), U.S. v. Mitchell, 429 F. 3d 952 (10th Cir. 2005).)
(For more, see Probation and Supervised Release in Federal Court.)
Though there are helpful online resources for state and federal former prisoners, consider seeking the help of an experienced attorney if you want to fully understand or enforce your rights.