Although a defendant may be sentenced to imprisonment for a certain number of years, he may only serve part of it. Conditional release before the planned sentence end is possible. It's called parole.
Parole is a privilege, not a right. No one is entitled to early release from prison. Parole won't make a sentence longer. Even if several requests are denied, someone won't stay in prison longer than the initial sentence.
Eligibility for Parole
Initial eligibility for parole varies by state. Courts may set how much has to be served first. In federal court, you're eligible after serving one third of the time. It's also possible for the court to set a shorter time.
If parole is denied, you may ask for reconsideration. States law varies on how long you have to wait before asking. In federal court, you may apply every 18 months if serving between one and seven years in prison. It's every 24 months for longer sentences.
A paroling authority is a group of people with power to decide parole issues. Often it's a state parole board that decides. The US Parole Commission handles federal cases. These paroling authorities have broad leeway in handling parole requests.
Paroling authorities don't want to grant parole if there may be a public threat. They look at things such as good prison behavior and following rules. And personal characteristics. Parole is more likely if the release won't:
- Jeopardize public welfare
- Promote disrespect for the law
- Lessen the seriousness of the crime he committed
Even if an early release meets these guidelines, parole is denied if there's a good reason to say no. Likewise, parole is possible even if guidelines aren't met.
A paroling authority looks at many information types when deciding a parole request. The information must be available and relevant. Some examples include:
- Prison staff reports and recommendations
- Presentence investigation reports
- Sentencing judge's recommendations
- Prior criminal record reports
- Victim statements
- Mental or psychiatric exam reports
- Any other additional information about the prisoner, including what he provides
A paroling authority sets reasonable conditions for parole. The conditions may be related to the crime type and may serve to protect the public. However, these conditions can't be so broad they're unreasonable. Some examples of conditions may be a prisoner:
- Can't commit another crime
- Can't possess illegal controlled substances
- Must attend a treatment center program
- Must stay home outside working hours
- Must get permission before marrying, moving, changing jobs or out-of-state travel
If there are parole violations, the paroling authority may change or revoke parole. Likewise, when parole conditions are met, the paroling authority may grant an early end of supervision and reward you with early parole release.
Questions for Your Attorney
- If I am denied parole, do I have any way to appeal the decision or do I have to wait until I can apply for reconsideration?
- Does a prisoner have the right to read and listen to all information used in parole determination?
- What can I do if I think my parole conditions are oppressive and unreasonable?