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How Does the Parole Process Work?



What Is Parole?

When an inmate is paroled, he or she is permitted to serve a part of his or her sentence under community supervision. The U.S. Parole Commission is the body charged with oversight of the parole process. The commission may grant an inmate parole if the following conditions are met:

  • The inmate has substantially observed and adhered to the prison's rules.
  • The inmate's release would not lessen the seriousness of the underlying crime or promote public disrespect for the criminal justice systems and laws.
  • The inmate's release does not jeopardize public safety and welfare.

What Is the Purpose of Parole?

With the appropriate level of supervision, parole has three main goals in its efforts to integrate an inmate back into society as a productive, contributing member:

  • A parolee may get help with employment, housing, money, or other personal problems that he or she might confront in trying to adjust to life after prison, thanks to the assistance of a United States Probation Officer.
  • Society is protected because parole assists prisoners to reestablish themselves in the community and prevent inmate recidivism.
  • Parole prevents unnecessary imprisonment of inmates unlikely to commit additional crimes and who meet the standards established for parole.

What Happens at a Parole Hearing?

Parole hearings are opportunities for inmates to tell their sides of the story and to communicate their arguments in favor of parole. The purpose of a parole hearing is for the parole board to ascertain whether an inmate can and should be returned to society, and if so, when that return should occur. The parole board is interested in protecting and advancing two aims concurrently:

  • the interests of public safety
  • the needs of the individual inmate

The parole board evaluates if the seriousness of the inmate's crime or offense or the timing and severity of prior convictions necessitates a longer incarceration period to protect the welfare and safety of the public.

The topics of discussion at a typical parole hearing may include:

  • details of the underlying offense, which may include graphical details in some circumstances
  • the inmate's prior criminal history
  • guidelines the parole board will use in making any parole decisions
  • the inmate's accomplishments and conduct while in prison
  • information regarding the inmate's plan of release, and any issues, concerns, or problems the inmate has had in the past and may face going forward after release

The parole hearing will advance through several standard agenda items, including a review of

  • the inmate's rights
  • the underlying crime
  • crime factors
  • the inmate's record
  • the inmate’s parole plans

These are followed by impact statements and deliberations to arrive at a final parole decision.