An early release law is a state criminal law that allows a prisoner to be released before the end of their prison term. Early release from prison is sometimes known as parole. Parole is not granted automatically. Instead, a prisoner must apply for parole. Typically, a state parole board considers an individual’s request. The state parole board then decides whether early release is appropriate. 

An individual, once released early, must comply with the terms of their early release. Parole may be modified or rescinded depending on whether a parolee (someone who has been paroled) has complied with its terms.

Who is Eligible for Parole?

Not all prisoners eligible for parole. That is, not all prisoners can get out of prison early.. Prisoners sentenced to a life sentence without the possibility of parole (LWOP) are not eligible for parole. Other prisoners may generally apply for parole. The state parole board decides whether to grant these requests. 

State parole boards must consider specific criteria when deciding whether to grant parole. These criteria include:

  • The probability that, if parole is granted, the individual will successfully integrate into the community. The parole board looks at whether early release may pose a safety threat to the community. The parole board also looks at whether the prisoner has been rehabilitated to the point of being able to be a productive member of society.
  • The prisoner has observed prison rules and regulations during the time of their confinement. 
  • The seriousness of the offense that resulted in imprisonment. Parole is less likely to be granted for first degree offenses than other offenses. Parole is less likely to be granted for violent crimes, such as kidnapping, assault, rape, robbery and murder, than for other offenses.
  • Whether the judge issuing the sentence made a parole recommendation. 
  • The characteristics of the inmate, including age and prior criminal record. 
  • Whether the inmate has demonstrated remorse for having committed the crime. 

Who Can Grant an Early Release or “Parole” from Prison?

A prisoner requests parole by filing a motion for early release.  The motion is a document in which the prisoner explains why they are entitled to early release. A prisoner may apply for early release based on special conditions. These conditions include terminal illness, old age, and good behavior. In the motion, the prisoner asserts they are eligible for early release under a state “compassionate release” program due to one or more of these criteria.

Early release is granted by the parole board. The parole board looks at factors such as the severity of the crime, the defendant’s remorse, the degree to which the defendant has been rehabilitated, and whether “compassionate release” circumstances are present.

In non-compassionate release cases, the parole board decides whether to grant the release. If the prisoner wants to appeal a negative decision of the parole board, the prisoner may appeal through the appropriate entity, which may be the parole board  or state governor. The appeal process differs among states.

In compassionate release cases, the state governor has specifically ordered a parole board to give certain inmates accelerated consideration for parole. For example, in 2020, the Governor of Maryland signed an executive order requiring accelerated consideration for parole to inmates whose prison term is set to expire in four months, and who are not serving time for a sexual or violent offense. 

This particular compassionate release program in Maryland is part of that state’s effort to curb the spread of the coronavirus pandemic’s spread among inmates. Other states have adopted similar coronavirus-related compassionate release programs.

What Factors are Considered by the Parole Board?

In any case, a  parole board considers a variety of evidence. The physical and mental health of an inmate are always considered. Parole boards also review reports, recommendations, and statements of certain officials. This evidence that is reviewed consists of:

  • Observations, notes, and reports of prison officials about prisoner behavior and progress;
  • Expert medical reports and testimony as to a prisoner’s health status;
  • Offender statements (requests by offenders as to why parole should be granted); and
  • Victim and victim’s family statements regarding whether parole should or should not be granted.

How is Parole Monitored and Restricted?

If parole is granted, it is then monitored and restricted.  Restriction measures are measures that restrict a parolee’s freedom of movement. These measures may include curfews, which require defendants to be at their residences at specific times. Some individuals may be required to be at their residence at all times. Exceptions may be granted that allow defendants to travel to and from specific places and events, such as to their job, and for doctor and attorney appointments.

Monitoring measures ensure that prisoners whose parole includes confinement to the home or specific geographic area, do not go outside their area of confinement. These measures can include:

  • GPS monitoring through use of an ankle bracelet or similar device;
  • Radio Frequency (RD) monitoring; and
  • Voice recognition technology

These measures can track a defendant’s location. The measures verify that a defendant who reports to a parole officer is who they claim to be. Other monitoring measures apply to [prisoners paroled from drug or alcohol crimes. These prisoners may be subject to random drug and breathalyzer tests. 

Can a Paroled Defendant be Sent Back to Prison?

If a defendant fails to comply with one or more conditions of parole, they have violated the terms of parole. Parole violations may result in termination of parole and the defendant’s having to return to prison. 

A parole violation may occur when a defendant commits certain crimes while on parole, or fails to meet with their parole officer as required. A parole violation may also occur when a defendant fails a drug or alcohol test, or fails to pay fines or restitution to victims for their monetary losses.

What Does “Good Time Off” Mean?

Certain defendants may be eligible for early release under a “good time off” program. Under such a program, a prisoner who has satisfactorily complied with prison disciplinary rules, and who has met other criteria, such as having shown remorse or evidence of rehabilitation, may be awarded a specific amount of days per year off a sentence. 

As a term is served, days off accumulate, and are applied to a sentence. This application reduces the overall length of a sentence.

Many people believe that “good behavior,” all by itself, requires a parole board to release a defendant from prison before the end of their sentence. This belief is inaccurate. There is no “right” to parole. Parole is a privilege, not a right. The privilege must be earned by meeting the criteria discussed above. One, but only one, of these criteria, is complying with prison disciplinary rules and regulations. 

Such compliance is expected in the first instance. Indeed, failure to comply with disciplinary rules and regulations can subject an inmate to loss of privileges, such as recreational activity rights. In severe cases of disciplinary rule infractions, a defendant may be segregated from other parts of the prison population. In the most extreme cases, a defendant may be placed in solitary confinement. While a prisoner may receive “days off” for good behavior, a prisoner is not entitled to release solely on the basis of that good behavior.

Do I Need a Lawyer for Assistance With Early Release?

If you are in prison and wish to apply for parole, you should contact a criminal lawyer. An experienced criminal defense attorney near you can explain how the parole process works, explain your rights and options, and help to secure early release.