How Parole Works

by Leigh A. Morgan
Court of Law and Justice Trial Proceedings: Law Offender in Orange Jumpsuit is Questioned and Giving Testimony to Judge, Jury. Criminal Denying Charges, Pleading, Inmate Denied Parole.

Whether from legal procedural drama on TV or a real-life situation, you’re probably familiar with the term “parole.”

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Parole is a common penalty for people convicted of crimes. The process isn't always easy, but it does give the individual an opportunity to reenter the community instead of staying in jail or prison.

What Is Parole?

Parole is when someone serves part of their sentence in the community instead of staying in jail or prison. For example, someone sentenced to five years in prison may be released after four years and serve one year of parole. During a parole term, the individual must report to an officer regularly and follow all rules set by the parole department and any other agencies involved in their case.

For parolees, this process is beneficial because it provides an opportunity to live in the community under the supervision of a trained parole officer. These officers provide ongoing support, reducing the risk that a parolee will commit additional offenses. Depending on how the program operates, a parolee may also be able to access job training, substance abuse counseling and other services to help them get their life back on track.

Parole also protects community members. The level of supervision varies based on an individual's criminal history and other factors, but reporting to a parole officer has been shown to prevent crimes. In one case, close supervision allowed parole officials to determine that an offender was stalking a young girl. As a condition of his parole, officials required the man to enroll in mental health treatment. They also warned the girl's parents about his conduct. Quick action by parole officials helped prevent an assault.

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Who Is Eligible for Parole?

At the federal level, parole eligibility begins once an inmate has served one-third of their sentence. Alternatively, an inmate may apply for parole after serving a 30-year sentence or the first 10 years of a life sentence.

If you were convicted of a state-level offense, the eligibility requirements depend on where you live. For example, Texas has different requirements for different types of offenses. Some inmates may also be eligible for "good time,” which reduces the total amount of time they must serve based on their good behavior.

In Pennsylvania, you must serve your minimum sentence before qualifying for parole. For example, if you're sentenced to five to 10 years in state prison, you must serve at least five years of that sentence before you're eligible.

Typically, a parole board determines whether an individual qualifies for parole. Board members consider several factors, such as the severity of the original offense, your behavior during incarceration and the amount of support you have at home. If you have questions specific to your situation, consult a licensed attorney with experience helping inmates qualify for parole.

Are All People in Prison or Jail Eligible for Parole?

No. As noted above, you generally don't qualify for parole unless you serve a certain percentage of your sentence. Additionally, some individuals are sentenced to life without parole, which means they must remain in prison for the rest of their lives. These individuals aren't eligible for parole at any time.

What Does the Parole Process Look Like?

So, how does parole work? Again, there are some variations from state to state, but it typically works like this:

1. You reach your parole eligibility date.

2. You fill out and sign your official application for parole.

3. You attend a parole hearing. During this hearing, you get to explain to the board why you believe you're a good candidate for parole. Board members may also hear testimony from other people involved in your case, such as victims, social workers and law enforcement officers.

4. The parole board makes a decision. If your application is approved, don't expect to go home right away. It may take a while to finalize your application and get you set up with the services you need to succeed once you return to the community.

How Long Is Parole?

It depends on your sentence. If you served three years of a five-year sentence, for example, your parole should last for two years. However, parole boards have the authority to revoke parole under certain circumstances. For example, if you don't report to your parole officer as required, you may have to return to prison to serve the remainder of your original sentence.

What Are the Rules of Parole?

The rules of parole vary based on several factors, including where you reside, who's in charge of your case and what type of offense you committed. For example, those convicted of a financial crime, like embezzlement, may have different requirements than those convicted of a violent crime, like assault. Reporting is one of the most important things you can do to stay in compliance.

If your offense involved drinking or drugs, you may be required to attend substance abuse treatment. It's also common for parolees to receive therapy and other mental health services. You may also have to follow some of these rules:

  • No drinking or drug use
  • No contact with current jail or prison inmates
  • No traveling to other cities or states without permission
  • Maintaining employment
  • Refraining from illegal activity
  • No possession of weapons (e.g., firearms)
  • Submitting to drug and alcohol testing

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Elocal Editorial Content is for educational and entertainment purposes only. Editorial Content should not be used as a substitute for advice from a licensed professional in your state reviewing your issue. The opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by the eLocal Editorial Team and other third-party content providers do not necessarily reflect the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints of eLocal or its affiliate companies. Use of eLocal Editorial Content is subject to the

Website Terms and Conditions.

The eLocal Editorial Team operates independently of eLocal USA's marketing and sales decisions.

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