Eligibility for Parole

What determines the point at which a prisoner becomes eligible for parole?

An offender's parole eligibility date is getting closer. Does that approaching date mean he or she is almost out from behind bars? Not necessarily. Parole isn't something a prisoner automatically receives after a certain period of time in prison. But becoming eligible is the first step.

The Nature of Parole

Parole is part of a sentence. It comes after release from prison. It's the part that people serve within the community under government supervision. Parole is typically a privilege rather than a right, meaning that parole boards don't freely give it to everyone.

Why parole?

Parole helps a previously incarcerated person establish a life in mainstream society under the guidance of a parole officer. For example, being on parole is supposed to help recently released prisoners get their housing and employment in order. Parole is also designed to protect society by requiring former offenders to follow certain conditions. (See Parole Conditions.) The idea is that these conditions will help them succeed and keep them from reoffending.

Is parole the same everywhere?

Parole varies from state to state. In fact, some states no longer have "parole." Minnesota, for example, has a determinate sentencing system where prisoners serve two-thirds of their prison sentences behind bars and the remainder on supervised release. Somewhat similarly, supervised release has generally replaced parole in the federal system. (See Federal "Parole.")

When Does Eligibility Begin?

Parole eligibility differs from place to place; each jurisdiction specifies when a prisoner becomes eligible for consideration. Often, parole boards consider prisoners for parole after they've completed a certain portion of their prison sentences, such as one-third.

Factors beyond sentence length also determine the point of parole eligibility. In Louisiana, for example, eligibility dates are based on a number of elements, including:

  • the type of offense
  • whether it is the first or a repeat felony, and
  • the length of time between felonies.

In Louisiana, for a single non-violent felony, eligibility may begin after the offender serves one-quarter of the sentence. But an offender with a second felony may have to serve half of the sentence before becoming eligible. Those with three or more felonies may not be eligible for parole at all. (La. Rev. Stat. § 15-574.4.)

Another factor that may affect eligibility is the conduct of the prisoner while behind bars. In Colorado, for example, an offender may be able to get an earlier eligibility date as a result of good behavior. Misconduct during imprisonment, on the other hand, may lead to a later eligibility date. (Colo. Rev. Stat. § 17-22.5-403.)

If the sentence length is indeterminate, as with a life sentence, in order to determine eligibility dates, states may look at factors that include:

  • the type of offense
  • the offender's age, and
  • the offender's risk-level designation.

Decision Process

If a prisoner is eligible for parole, then the parole board will follow a prescribed process to determine whether to actually grant early release. In Colorado, for instance, after an eligible offender applies for parole, the Parole Board conducts an application hearing. During the hearing, the board will consider:

  • victim statements
  • the risk of re-offense
  • the offender's participation in treatment
  • the offender's behavior while in prison, and
  • numerous other factors.

The victim of the crime may be able to attend the hearing. (Colo. Rev. Stat. § 17-22.5-404.)

Contact an Attorney

Parole is complicated, and the laws that govern it can differ greatly. If you have questions about parole or supervised release, consider consulting a defense attorney who knows the relevant system. Online research might also provide you with some basics on your state.

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