parole | Definition

Doc's CJ Glossary by Adam J. McKee
Course: Introduction / Corrections

Parole is a type of early release from prison where the parolee must abide by certain specified conditions and be supervised in the community by a parole officer.

Parole is a type of early release from prison that allows an offender to serve the remainder of their sentence in the community under supervision. It is a tool used by the criminal justice system to help reduce prison overcrowding, save taxpayers money, and facilitate the reintegration of offenders back into society. It is granted after an offender has served a portion of their sentence and is contingent upon the offender’s compliance with certain conditions of release.

Development of Parole

Historically, at the federal level, parole is granted by the U.S. Parole Commission. The Commission was responsible for determining whether an offender is eligible for parole and for setting the conditions of release. When an offender is granted parole, they are released from prison and placed under the supervision of a U.S. probation officer. The probation officer is responsible for ensuring that the parolee complies with the conditions of release and for reporting any violations to the Parole Commission.

Conditions of Parole

The conditions of parole can vary depending on the nature of the offense, the offender’s criminal history, and other factors. Common conditions include regular reporting to the probation officer, attending drug or alcohol treatment programs, submitting to drug tests, and avoiding contact with known felons. Parolees may also be required to maintain employment or attend school and may be subject to travel restrictions or curfews.

Goals of Parole

One of the primary goals is to help offenders successfully reintegrate into society. Research has shown that it can be an effective tool in reducing recidivism rates, as it provides offenders with the support and resources they need to avoid reoffending. It also allows offenders to maintain family and employment ties, which can make the transition back into society smoother and more successful.

However, the decision to grant parole is not taken lightly. The deciding body carefully reviews each case to ensure that the offender is not a danger to society and that they are capable of complying with the conditions of release. They also consider the opinions of victims, law enforcement officials, and other stakeholders before making a decision.

Granting Parole

At the state level, its use varies depending on the jurisdiction. In some states, parole is granted by a parole board or commission, while in others, it is granted by the sentencing judge. Some states have abolished parole altogether and instead rely on a determinate sentencing system in which sentencing guidelines set the sentence.

Federal Parole

The Sentencing Reform Act of 1984 technically abolished parole at the federal level and instead implemented a determinate sentencing system. Under this system, the court imposes a fixed sentence based on sentencing guidelines, and the offender serves the full term of the sentence in prison. The Act was designed to provide more certainty in sentencing and to reduce disparities in sentencing across the country.  Still, the Commission and early release still exist.

Although it was abolished for federal offenses in 1984, some offenders who committed offenses before that time are still serving their sentences and may be eligible. These offenders were sentenced under the old indeterminate sentencing system, which allowed for the possibility of parole.

Additionally, some offenders who were sentenced under the old system and were released before 1984 are still under federal supervision. This is because their release was granted before the abolition, and their supervision terms remain in effect until their sentences are complete.

While the number of offenders on federal parole has declined significantly since the abolition of parole in 1984, there are still some individuals who are serving sentences or under supervision that were established before the reform took place. However, the vast majority of federal offenders are now sentenced to determinate sentences, which means they will serve the entire sentence in prison and will not be eligible for parole.

While determinate sentencing has its benefits, some experts argue that it can also lead to harsh and inflexible sentences that do not take into account the unique circumstances of each case. Critics also argue that determinate sentencing can lead to prison overcrowding and excessive costs for taxpayers.

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Last Modified: 07/12/2023

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