Pardon and Parole

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Since 2022, the U.S. Department of Justice has had more than 17,000 pardon petition backlogs in its queue.

Meanwhile, almost 3.7 million adults have been serving parole or probation terms in the United States since 2021. The numbers are expected to increase as many continually become eligible for these privileges.

However, the difference between pardon and parole may still be vague to some people. While these terms both mean an early release from incarceration, in what ways are they legally different?

How do these privileges work? How do you determine if your incarcerated loved one is eligible for pardon or parole? If so, how can you help in the process?

This article will provide helpful information about the difference between parole and pardon. Also, you’ll learn how parole and pardon work, who is eligible to receive the privileges, and how it affects an inmate and their loved ones.

Getting parole or pardon is a significant event in an inmate’s life. These two words give a shimmer of hope for an incarcerated person that the return to everyday life is near. By this time, family members are preparing everything they need to help their loved one go through this process and reunite with them.

You can visit LookUpInmate.org if you need to access records and documents about an inmate you want to help with their case. This website provides direct links to web pages where you can request inmate records.

Also, LookUpInmate.org includes contact information of key persons in a prison facility that you may need to reach out to during the parole or pardon process.

What’s the Difference Between Pardon and Parole?

You may think pardon and parole have the same meaning, but they don’t. Both allow inmates to be released after serving only a fraction of their sentence. However, these words have two different legal meanings.

What Is Parole?

Parole is a conditional release for prisoners before they complete their sentence. Paroles are among the privileges the U.S. criminal justice system offers prisoners showing exemplary behavior that merits such treatment.

To get released via parole, an inmate must fit the requirements imposed by a group of deliberators called a parole board.

How Does Parole Work?

A parole board makes parole decisions that determine whether an inmate is eligible. The board also looks into parole violations, which may result in parole revocation.

The parole board provides a set of eligibility requirements. However, simply having these requirements doesn’t automatically give prisoners the privilege of parole. Members of the board deliberate each petition case.

Here are the general requirements for parole:

  1. The prisoner has served a substantial part of their prison term. In some states, this “substantial time” means the prisoner has already done a third or half of their sentence. A prisoner becomes eligible after serving the minimum sentence length in other cases.
  1. The prisoner has shown good behavior during the entire length of their time in prison. In states like Colorado, good conduct or “good time” in jail may make prisoners eligible for parole.
  1. The prisoner has continually observed the institution’s rules.
  1. The prisoner’s offense is not grave enough that a parole grant results in a depreciation of the crime or disrespect of the law and puts public welfare at risk.

How Does a Pardon Work?

In the United States, executive officers like the President and governors may give prisoners executive clemency, pardon, or reprieve. Under clemency, an executive officer may grant anyone in prison a pardon or commutation.

A pardon happens when an executive officer uses their executive power to exempt a convicted individual from serving their punishment. Simply put, pardoning is the “blotting out” or absolution of a person’s crime.

On the other hand, a commutation will only shorten the length prescribed by a judge during the sentencing of a convicted individual.

How Does One Get a Pardon in the U.S.?

If you have an incarcerated loved one, and you’re hoping that there’s a way for an early release from prison, a pardon is one way to gain freedom. However, there’s a process that an inmate must go through to receive forgiveness from the President or a state governor.

Here is a general overview of how presidential and gubernatorial pardons work.

Presidential Pardons

It should be noted that presidential pardons are given for federal offenses. Under the U.S. Constitution, the President can only pardon federal criminal convictions handled by the U.S. District Courts, the Superior Court of the District of Columbia, and military court-martials.

Presidential pardons don’t extend to state convictions. In this case, a person seeking pardon for state offenses must petition the state governor.

An inmate seeking a presidential pardon must:

  1. Submit a pardon petition to the Office of the Pardon Attorney: Excluding petitions for military crimes, a pardon petition should be emailed to the official email address of the Pardon Attorney, [email protected].

The petitioner can send a photo of a petition if converted into PDF (portable document format) and then sent via email. They can also visit the Department of Justice’s official website for information regarding pardons and other privileges given to inmates in U.S. correctional facilities.

The Department of Justice advises that petitions should be emailed for a speedier service. However, an eligible inmate can still send their petition via mail to the official address of the Pardon Attorney’s office:

U.S. Department of Justice, Office of the Pardon Attorney,
950 Pennsylvania Avenue, Washington, D.C. 20530

If an inmate chooses to send a petition via mail, they must ensure that:

  • The petition was written legibly by typing or printing it in ink and not pictures of documents.
  • The documents don’t have any glue, staple, bind, or tape.
  1. Complete the five-year waiting period requirement: An applicant for a petition must satisfy a five-year minimum waiting period before becoming eligible for application for a presidential pardon.

The waiting period is set in place to allow the petitioner to show or demonstrate their ability to lead a law-abiding life. The period also will enable inmates to prove they can be productive and responsible upon reentry and reintegration into the community.

The inmate may request a waiver of the five-year waiting period by including an explanation detailing why the five-year waiting period should be waived for their case.

  1. Have a reason for requesting pardon: Remember that a pardon is not a dismissal of a crime nor assumes your innocence of an offense. It only absolves a person from punishment and doesn’t erase a conviction.

Because of this, the processing of pardon petitions considers the petitioner’s remorse, responsibility, and atonement for the offense committed.

  1. Include character references: The petitioner should include three character affidavits. Note that close relatives like siblings and spouses are not qualified as primary character references.

Gubernatorial Pardons

Requirements and processes to petition for a governor’s pardon may vary from state to state. It’s best to get legal advice for this matter, especially from law firms or attorneys familiar with the pardon process in your respective state.

Here is a typical pardon application process:

  1. Check the inmate’s eligibility to apply for pardon; State governors can’t pardon federal offenses and, in some cases, municipal ordinance violations. Before sending an application, ensure the conviction is under your governor’s jurisdiction.
  1. Ensure that the offenses can be pardoned: Some states limit the governor on the pardonable offenses. For example, habitual offenders and violent crimes against children are not pardonable in New Mexico.
  1. Fill out and submit the application: You can get this application at the governor’s office. Fill out the form and the reasons why the pardon is justified. Add supporting statements with proof detailing an inmate’s positive contribution to the community and public safety.
  1. Include other required documents: This requirement depends on the jurisdiction. However, some may require an employment history and a certificate of rehabilitation to qualify for a pardon.

How Long Does It Take to Get a Pardon?

The time from application to granting a pardon varies widely between states. Also, other factors can contribute to the speed of the pardon application process. In Georgia, the process times may take up to nine months. However, the board’s workload also affects the actual process time.

As the process progresses, the pardons board schedules a pardon hearing. Once a hearing is set, the pardon applicant and the victims are informed. During the hearing, victims are guided by the Victim Services staff, who orient petitioners on the hearing process and things to expect.

The victim may also provide testimonies during the hearing. They can choose whether to attend physically or through video conferencing.

On the other hand, witnesses are invited to participate in the hearing and can provide testimonies. The exact procedure for applying for a pardon hearing depends on the state’s legislature and policies.

The entire process can take many months. If the pardon request is denied, the petitioner may apply again after a year.

About the Board of Pardons and Parole

The Department of Corrections works with Pardon and Parole board to decide whether inmates should be granted pardons and parole. States have different boards with varying administrative rules, policies, and decision-making processes to determine who’s eligible for pardon or parole.

These determinations may require a parole hearing where members of the public can join and witness. Also, suppose the parole terms and conditions are not met. In that case, it may result in removing the privilege of parole, which may require a revocation hearing.

Types of Hearings

Typical hearings set by the pardon and parole board are:

  1. Pardon hearing: In this hearing, pardon applications and commutation of sentences are heard and deliberated. Schedules for this type of hearing vary in each state.
  1. Parole hearing: A parole hearing is where an inmate can appear before the board. A parole hearing is typically scheduled six months after an inmate becomes eligible.
  1. Parole rehearing: When a parole denial occurs, the board will inform the inmate of the reason for the denial and allow a rehearing.
  1. Parole violation: Upon allegations of parole violations by a parole officer or law enforcement, a hearing will be set. The main focus of this hearing is to determine whether a parolee has committed a violation. An independent hearing officer and the supervising probation and parole officer officiate this hearing.
  1. Parole reconsideration: A reconsideration occurs when an inmate is denied parole. The inmate can request a reconsideration and provide evidence to reinstate their parolee status.

Hearing Location and Information

Each state has a venue for parole and pardon hearings. For example, in Louisiana, the board conducts its hearing in the state’s Department of Corrections building. In other states, the venue may be with a DOC building or a venue provided by state policies.

Hearings Are Open to the Public

Parole and pardon hearings are open to the public. One can get access and a link to view the hearings online. Pardon and parole board websites in each state post live stream links to hearings for the public to join.

Parole and pardon are the U.S. Justice system’s solutions allowing inmates to atone for the mistakes committed and reenter society. Anyone behind bars can have that one chance that can change their lives for the better.

Some people get their big break after getting that dream job they wanted. On the other hand, some feel a win when their loved ones are with them, not behind bars.

Each day a person tries everything to improve is a win. Each time a person learns from all mistakes and works hard to get that second chance to make things right is a win. Parole and pardons symbolize a government’s hope that people can, if given a chance, still change for the better.

References

1. Lawmakers Press DOJ on Backlog of 17,000 Clemency Petitions
https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2022-05-18/lawmakers-press-doj-over-backlog-of-17-000-pardon-seekers-in-us?leadSource=uverify%20wall
2. Probation and Parole in the United States, 2021
https://bjs.ojp.gov/library/publications/probation-and-parole-united-states-2021
3. Parole
https://www.law.cornell.edu/wex/parole
4. Eligibility for Parole
https://www.nolo.com/legal-encyclopedia/eligibility-parole.html
5. ArtII.S2.C1.3.1 Overview of Pardon Power
https://constitution.congress.gov/browse/essay/artII-S2-C1-3-1/ALDE_00013316/
6. Pardon Information and Instructions
https://www.justice.gov/pardon/pardon-information-and-instructions
7. Pardons FAQs
https://pap.georgia.gov/parole-consideration/pardons-restoration-rights/pardons-faqs
8. Louisiana Board of Pardons and Committee on Parole
https://doc.louisiana.gov/imprisoned-person-programs-resources/pardons-parole/

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