Parole eligibility is a critical part of the United States criminal justice system. Incarcerated individuals and their loved ones look at parole eligibility as an avenue of hope for release before completing the maximum terms of a sentence.
However, many people may not know what parole eligibility means and how prisoners get their parole applications granted.
This article explores the parole system and how prisoners can become eligible for this court privilege. It also tackles the different rules and regulations observed by parole boards of other states.
Furthermore, this write–up explains the parole hearing process, how it’s different from traditional court hearings, and the possible violations that can revoke this privilege.
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The criminal justice system allows incarcerated people an avenue for release without serving the entire sentence term through parole. However, getting a parole release doesn’t come automatically. There are specific conditions set by the state parole boards when a prisoner becomes eligible for parole.
What Does Parole Eligibility Mean?
Parole eligibility means the prisoner has served a specific portion of their prison sentence, making them eligible for parole consideration. It doesn’t automatically mean that the prisoner is paroled.
Who Is Eligible for Parole?
The United States Parole Commission may grant parole subject to the following criteria:
- The prisoner has completed one-third of the sentence term.
- The prisoner has observed the institution’s rules (prison or jail).
- The release would not depreciate or lower the severity of the offense or promote disrespect for the law.
- The parole release wouldn’t jeopardize public welfare or safety.
When Does an Inmate Become Eligible for Parole?
Differences in state laws also affect the specifics of parole eligibility between jurisdictions. Furthermore, not all prisoners are eligible for parole. The following are examples of factors that determine an inmate’s parole eligibility.
One crucial factor for parole boards to consider when granting parole is the defendant’s completion of a significant portion of their prison sentence. An example is when the prisoner has already served one-half or one-third of the maximum sentence.
Another factor for determining a parole grant is the severity of the criminal offense and the inmate’s criminal history. However, states may differ in determining the crimes eligible for parole. For example, Louisiana lists the factors that would affect parole eligibility:
- Whether or not the offense is violent
- Whether or not the criminal is a sex offender
- For more than one crime, the period between the commission of the felonies
For first-time felony offenders, the parole board may consider eligibility after the offender serves one-quarter of the sentence. Second felony offenders reach eligibility after serving two-thirds of the sentence. However, repeat felony offenders (three or more cases) may not be eligible for parole.
Another factor affecting eligibility is the prisoner’s behavior while imprisoned. In states like Colorado, an inmate can get an early parole eligibility because of good behavior or “good time.” On the other hand, unruly behavior in a federal or state prison can delay parole eligibility.
When a judge imposes a minimum term, some states require the prisoner to serve the entire minimum sentence. However, good behavior may reduce some time off the minimum sentence length depending on the discretion of the parole board and the state’s policy towards good behavior merits.
A vital factor for parole eligibility is the sentence length imposed by the judge.
Sometimes, the judge hands down a life without parole sentence, which explicitly bars the inmate from parole eligibility.
However, despite the severe sentence, some factors may be considered to allow parole for inmates charged with life imprisonment.
- Type of offense, whether violent, nonviolent, or a sex offense
- The prisoner’s age
- The prisoner’s risk-level designation
Some states arbitrarily determine parole eligibility. For example, for a life sentence without the possibility of parole, the state may impose that a prisoner must serve a minimum life sentence term before becoming eligible for parole. State legislation may set the minimum life sentence term from 30 to 40 years.
What Is a Parole Eligibility Date?
A parole eligibility date is the earliest time a prisoner might be granted parole. The state’s parole board will set a release date when it gives parole. However, the release date must be after the prisoner becomes eligible for parole.
General Provision Controlling Parole Eligibility for Sentences of Less and More Than 21 Years
States may differ in their policies concerning parole eligibility for long sentences. For example, in Georgia, parole eligibility for sentences less or more than 21 years depends on the following factors:
- The offender is not a recidivist and has no mandatory minimum sentence.
- The offender has an aggregate sentence of 21 years or less. Parole eligibility starts after serving nine months or one-third of the sentence, whichever is greater.
- The offender has an aggregate sentence of 21 years or more. Parole eligibility begins after seven years.
General Parole Guidelines for Crime Severity Levels of IV or Less
Crime severity level is a classification system adopted by Georgia to categorize crime according to severity.
According to Georgia parole guidelines, level IV (four) includes crimes like burglary, non-DUI (driving under the influence) vehicle homicide, and specific drug offenses.
For levels IV or less, parole eligibility can be considered before completing one-third of the imposed sentence for crimes under these severity levels.
Other states also have different crime security levels. It shows that parole eligibility also hinges on the type of crime committed and how “dangerous” an offender is.
General Parole Guidelines for Crime Severity Level of V or Greater
Georgia’s Crime severity level V (five) or greater lists felony murder as the most severe crime on the state’s list.
The Georgia Parole Board may vote for the parole eligibility of severity level V. prisoners. Such voting can happen even before the prisoner’s parole eligibility date, usually set after the inmate has served time that equals a third of their sentence term.
As a general rule, the Georgia Parole Board sees murder as a heinous crime, and convicted defendants are not eligible for parole. However, if the defendant gets a life sentence for murder, they can be eligible for parole after serving 14 or 30 years, provided the crime was committed after July 1, 2006.
Sentences of Two Years or Less, Regardless of CSL (Community Supervision for Life)
Community supervision for life (CSL) is a condition of parole imposed by New Jersey against sex offenders once released. However, New Jersey does not only impose a special CSL sentence for sex offenders. The state has also added several restrictions on its enforcement, such as internet usage monitoring. Other states may also have different policies on the implementation of CSL.
For sentences of two years or less, states may have different factors regarding parole eligibility. However, Georgia’s Parole Board treats each sentence uniquely.
For example, defendants with two-year sentences or less are typically placed on “fast track,” and parole considerations are not limited by the general parole provisions.
For instance, prisoners who meet the state’s Department of Corrections criteria are sent to a three- to six-month strategic intervention program (SIP) in a county jail and, upon completion, are released on parole.
Statutory Exceptions to the General Parole Rules of Parole Eligibility: First Offenders, Life Sentences, Recidivist Offenders, and the “Seven Deadly Sins”
Georgia has a list of “seven deadly sins,” which the state considers severe violent crimes. The crimes are the following:
- Aggravated child molestation
- Aggravated sexual battery
- Aggravated sodomy
- Armed robbery
In this case, “For every rule, there are exceptions” applies, particularly to parole eligibility considerations. States have different policies of exception on who is eligible for parole. For example, the following are statutory exceptions imposed in Georgia regarding parole eligibility.
- First offenders may be eligible for parole consideration immediately upon imposition of the sentence.
- Defendants with charges included in the “seven deadly sins” list will not be eligible for parole.
- Inmates with life sentences for severe violent felonies imposed between January 1, 1995, and June 30, 2006, will be eligible for parole considerations after serving 14 years.
However, if the defendant is sentenced after July 1, 2006, parole considerations apply only upon serving 30 years. Reviews are set within the next eight years if the parole is not granted.
- Defendants serving consecutive life sentences, with one life term due to murder committed between January 1, 1995, and June 30, 2006, will serve 10-year periods for each life term up to 30 years before getting parole considerations.
Suppose the defendant commits the acts after July 1, 2006. In that case, they must serve a consecutive 30-year term for each sentence up to a maximum of 60 years before getting parole considerations.
- Repeat offenders of violent felonies will be sentenced to life without parole. Defendants convicted of any felony charge for a fourth time or more must receive maximum sentence terms. They will not be eligible for parole for that specific sentence.
Notification Requirement Pursuant to OCGA §42-9-46
Official Code of Georgia Annotated (OCGA) §42-9-46 states that the parole board must notify the registered victim/s, the district attorney, and the sentencing judge in writing at least 10 days before the defendant is considered for parole.
The notified parties may provide their written statements to the parole board or appear before a parole hearing to share their views regarding the possibility of the defendant getting paroled.
In other states, this notification is also employed to ensure that the defendant’s victims are properly informed about the parole hearings.
Parole Board Authority to Establish Exceptions to the General Provision Controlling Parole Eligibility Pursuant to OCGA §42-9-45(C)
Parole boards, especially in Georgia, can establish their rules and regulations. Because of this, parole reviews done in Georgia can be based on the board’s provisions. OCGA §42-9-45(C) affords this general provision control to the parole board.
What Is Parole?
Parole allows inmates to serve part of their prison sentence in the community instead of behind bars. While on parole, the defendant strictly follows the conditions of parole, like continually reporting to a parole officer.
This conditional release aims to support the prisoner’s reintegration into society.
How Does Parole Work?
Parole is a concept that many people might need help to understand fully. The following section discusses how this alternate sentencing option works and the parole board‘s authority when considering an inmate’s parole eligibility.
Essentially, parole is a release option for eligible prisoners. Understanding parole fundamentals may help people with loved ones behind bars who may qualify for a parole application.
Parole Is Not a Right
It’s crucial to remember that parole is not a right. Prisoners don’t receive parole automatically once they are eligible. The parole board decides whether prisoners deserve parole, especially if they’ve shown “good behavior” while in prison.
Parole is typically given to prisoners with the potential to reintegrate into society successfully.
Eligibility for Parole
As mentioned, parole eligibility occurs when the prisoner successfully serves a portion of their sentence. Once the inmate is deemed eligible for parole, the parole board gets notified, which starts the parole consideration process. Remember that parole eligibility doesn’t automatically mean a prisoner will get paroled.
Once a prisoner becomes eligible for parole, the parole board conducts a “parole hearing.” If the board approves the parole, the prisoner is released into society under continued supervision. However, not all parole hearings result in a parole grant.
The defendant must strictly adhere to the conditions of parole once granted by the board. It means that the prisoner will constantly report to a parole officer and adhere to specific rules and regulations imposed by the court.
The Parole Process
Like any legal procedure, parole has a definite process that the prisoner must comply with to get released. Three are prerequisites for a parole grant, and it’s best to gain the help of lawyers who can help.
What Is the Process of Applying for Parole?
For a prisoner to be granted parole, they must apply for it. Each state’s parole board follows a prescribed process to determine who can receive this alternative sentence.
Parole Decision-Making Process
As mentioned, states may differ in the parole process. However, in essence, the parole boards in different states aim to ensure that only worthy prisoners are granted parole.
For example, here is the decision-making process in Colorado, which starts by considering the following factors during a hearing:
- The victim/s statements
- The risk level for reoffending
- The defendant’s participation in treatment
- The defendant’s behavior while behind bars
Parole Board Decision
The board then deliberates the application. Meanwhile, the defendant must agree to the conditions of parole and sign an agreement.
A parole officer will monitor the inmate’s transition into society. Also, the officer will supervise and check the inmate’s compliance with the signed parole agreement.
Suppose the board decides to deny the parole application. In that case, the defendant will receive information on the date of the following parole review and a list of factors that should be present or improved to ensure a favorable application outcome.
The inmate may appeal the denial if they wish.
Waiver of Parole
Despite the changes afforded by parole grants, the defendant is not required to apply for parole. In such cases, the defendant will sign a waiver informing the parole board that they don’t want to undergo a parole hearing.
While parole conditions may differ between states and the crime committed by the defendant, the following are conditions common in many parole agreements:
- Maintenance of employment and residence
- Avoidance of criminal activities
- Refraining from contacting victims
- Restraint from drug and, to some extent, alcohol use
- Attendance of rehabilitation programs
- Remaining in a prescribed location
- Restraint from relocating without seeking permission from the parole officer
Any breach of an agreement or condition not fulfilled by a parolee is a violation. The parole officer reports the violations and may recommend penalties like revoking the defendant’s parole privilege.
Parole Revocation or Violation Hearing
When a parolee violates any of the conditions indicated in the agreement, they can be subjected to a parole revocation or violation hearing. Depending on the state law, the parole grant may be revoked, and the parolee sent back to prison.
The hearing process involves two parts: the hearing in front of a parole officer and the one before the parole board.
How Are Inmates Released on Parole?
Once the board grants parole to an inmate, a notice is sent to interested parties concerned with the inmate’s impending release.
Before the release, the parole officer interviews the inmate and prepares an overview of the would-be parolee. The board decides through a vote whether to grant or deny parole.
Can Parole Be Revoked?
Parole can be revoked if the parolee doesn’t comply with the strict conditions of the parole agreement. The parole officer may report the parolee once they commit a violation and have their privilege revoked through a parole hearing.
Do All States Have Parole Systems?
As of 2019, 16 states have abolished or severely curtailed discretionary parole. However, many states adopted a parole system that automatically releases inmates after a statutorily defined period. Afterward, they remain under supervision.
Nine Things You Probably Didn’t Know About Parole
Here are nine surprising things that you might not know about parole.
- Life sentences don’t necessarily mean not getting out of prison for life. Unless the sentence is life without parole, the inmate getting a life term may become eligible for parole after serving as little as 15 years.
- Most parole boards refrain from giving parole to inmates with life terms. Research, however, shows that offenders who have committed violent offenses are least likely to reoffend.
- Anyone can be on the parole board, whether you’re a farmer, a CEO, or a salesperson.
- Prisoners have no legal rights during parole hearings. According to the courts, parole is an act of grace, not a constitutional right.
- Parole boards can make their decisions based on almost any reason.
- Parole is not essentially an “early release” because parolees have served a minimum term before they become eligible for parole.
- There’s no sure way to get a parole. Boards rarely set clear expectations or requirements for prisoners to be ensured of this release.
- Parole boards continue their reach and supervision over a parolee even after they’re released into the community.
- Parole boards typically don’t meet the parole applicant. The board can make decisions based solely on a prisoner’s records.
Contact an Attorney
When severe legal problems confront you, it’s best to turn to a criminal defense lawyer for help. Even though parole hearings may differ from traditional court hearings, having a competent lawyer can be vital for a positive outcome.
You can assist your lawyer by gathering pertinent documents, especially when facing a parole hearing. Visit LookUpInmate.org to help collect your arrest and court records from any jail or prison facility in the country.
FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)
1. Can an offender waive a parole hearing or a revocation hearing?
Yes, an offender can waive a parole hearing and accept the possible penalties for a violation.
2. What is the difference between a personal appearance and a jacket review?
A jacket review involves the board reviewing the eligibility of an inmate for parole by going over the documents and records on file. A personal appearance is the physical attendance to undergo a review at a hearing.
3. What does “possibility of parole” mean?
The phrase is usually added after a life sentence to describe the life term imposed. A life sentence without the possibility of parole means the prisoner is not eligible for parole for the rest of the sentence.
4. How long after a parole hearing is an inmate released?
It’s difficult to pinpoint an exact timeline when an inmate is released after parole is granted. However, the parolee is typically released when suitable housing, employment opportunities, and transitional programs are available.
- Eligibility for Parole
- Frequently Asked Questions
- Crime Severity Levels
- Grading the parole release systems of all 50 states
- What is Life Without Parole?