After a criminal defendant is found to be guilty, the defendant is typically sentenced to a term of time (i.e, 6 months, 3 three years) in prison. A defendant may be released early from jail or prison. The most common and well-known type of early release is known as parole.  Parole is the release from jail, under specific terms and conditions. 

These terms and conditions are set forth in what is called a parole agreement.  An individual who is paroled is supervised and monitored upon their release. If that person does not comply with the conditions of their parole, they are subject to being returned to prison. 

Who is Eligible for Parole?

Generally, state criminal laws set forth what classes of defendants are eligible for parole. These laws may vary by state. 

Criminal defendants who may be eligible for parole under state parole systems typically include juvenile, first time, and certain non-violent offenders

Certain classes of criminal offenders are not eligible for consideration for parole.These generally include repeat offenders and violent offenders. These groups are generally not eligible for early release because their status as repeat and violent offenders renders them, in the eyes of the law, as a threat to the safety of the community into which they would be released. 

Individuals serving sentences for federal crimes are generally not eligible for parole release. Through the Sentencing Reform Act of 1984, Congress eliminated essentially eliminated parole for federal defendants who were convicted of crimes committed after November 1, 1987. Federal inmates are, however, eligible for a reduced sentence if they have served their sentence with good behavior. 

Who Makes Parole Decisions?

Parole decisions are typically made by a body known as a state parole board. Every state in the United States has a parole board. A state parole board typically consists of members who are appointed by the governor of the state. The parole board evaluates parole applications, and makes determinations as to whether the terms of parole have been violated.

What Factors are Considered by the Parole Board?

Parole boards may consider a variety of factors in determining whether to grant an order of parole to an inmate. These factors include (among others):

  • The age, physical, and mental health of the inmate
  • Whether the inmate has demonstrated good behavior in prison
  • Whether the inmate has shown remorse for the crime committed
  • The amount of time already served by the inmate
  • How successful any efforts to rehabilitate the defendant have been

In making parole decisions, parole boards evaluate different kinds of evidence, including  statements, reports, and recommendations. This evidence may consist of:

  • Prison officials’ observations, notes, reports, or recommendations
  • Medical expert reports or testimony
  • Statements of the offender and the victim. Parole boards may evaluate statements and testimony from both the offender and the victim as to whether defendant should be paroled.

Ultimately, the Parole Board will try to determine whether the inmate is still a threat to society, and if they are reformed enough to reintegrate with society and be a law-abiding citizen.

How is Parole Monitored and Restricted?

The terms and conditions of parole typically include provisions for monitoring the paroled inmate. In some instances, provisions restricting the individual’s movement are included in the terms of parole.

Parolees can be monitored to ensure they comply with the terms of their release. Monitoring may include measures such as:

  • Location monitoring technology
  • Radio Frequency (RF) Monitoring
  • GPS Monitoring
  • Voice Recognition

Monitoring measures can also include drug and breathalyzer tests.

In some cases, an individual may be released on parole, with specific restrictions placed on that person’s ability to move freely within the community. Restrictions may include:

  • Curfews (restrictions requiring defendants to be at their residence each day during a specific block of time)
  • Restrictions requiring defendant be at the residence at all times, with specific exceptions. Exceptions may include allow for defendants to travel to and from places of employment and education. Defendant may also be permitted to attend religious services, attorney, and medical appointments.

Can a Paroled Defendant be Sent Back to Prison?

If a defendant violates the terms of parole, the parole may be terminated and the defendant may be returned to prison. Common examples of parole violations include committing a crime while on parole; failure to meet with the parole officer (the individual assigned to defendant to monitor compliance with the terms of the parole); and failure to pay required fines or restitution.

What Does “Good Time Off” Mean?

A defendant may be eligible for a sentence reduction under state or federal “good time off” programs. Under a “good time off” program, prisoners who have been found to exhibit satisfactory compliance with prison disciplinary rules and regulations, may receive a certain number of days per year off their sentences. The days off accumulate and can serve to reduce the length of a sentence.

Do I Need a Lawyer for Assistance With Early Release?

If you are in prison and are seeking early release or parole, you may wish to consult with an experienced criminal defense lawyer. This lawyer can determine whether you are eligible for parole, can explain the parole application and hearing process, and provide guidance to ensure you meet and continue to abide by the early release terms. If you are found to have violated the terms of parole, the lawyer can also represent you at a parole revocation hearing.