Prison Release

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As of December 31, 2020, the United States has a parole population of about 862,100 people. Parole is among the ways for inmates to have a chance at an early prison release.

How do prisoners get released from jail early? What are the different types of prison release? What happens after the inmate gets released from prison?

This article explains how inmates can get out of jail early and lists the different types of prison release. This article also discusses what happens after a prisoner gets out of jail.

Having an incarcerated loved one released early from prison can be an opportunity for the family to celebrate. But this release also presents challenges, like ensuring the offender does not commit a crime again.

Learning how a prisoner gets released and the different kinds of prison releases can help families prepare to welcome a loved one who finally gets out of jail. provides families with a convenient online inmate locator to search for and view the prison records of their incarcerated loved ones. This website is an online resource for information about the U.S. criminal justice system.

What Is a Prison Release Called?

Prisoners have several ways to get out of jail. Depending on the state or whether the prisoner completes their sentence, here are the different ways an inmate may be released from prison:

  • Completion of their sentence
  • Parole
  • Release after sentence suspension
  • Release after extended confinement

How Do Prisoners Get Out Early?

The decision to release an inmate early varies by state. But in general, prisoners can get out of jail early in three ways:

  • Earning time off their sentence: Prisoners can earn credit for good behavior in jail. This credit can help shorten their sentence.

For example, if the judge credits the inmate 60 days for good behavior, the prisoner can subtract that period from the maximum sentence, resulting in an early release date.

The prisoner can also participate in credit-earning activities. Correctional counselors can determine an inmate’s eligibility to join activities like education or career-based programs to help reduce the prisoner’s sentence.

  • Obtaining parole: In some states, inmates serving life sentences may qualify for parole unless their sentences state otherwise. When an offender is on parole, they are on supervised release subject to conditions and restrictions.

The sentence of an individual serving life imprisonment usually specifies when the inmate can qualify for a parole hearing.

Parole boards decide whether to grant parole to a prisoner by considering positive and negative factors affecting the decision.

Positive factors include:

  • Prison behavior
  • Age
  • Motivation for committing the crime
  • Signs of remorse
  • Stable life outside the incarceration facility
  • Plans for the future

Meanwhile, negative factors include:

  • Criminal or juvenile records
  • Prison misconduct
  • The severity of the crime
  • A history of mental illness
  • Getting a compassionate release: Some prisoners can qualify for compassionate release to shorten their prison terms for reasons like the following:
    • Caring for an incapacitated spouse or partner
    • Suffering from a medical condition
    • Serving at an old age

What Happens After Prisoners Are Released?

Inmates who complete their final prison sentence from a Department of Corrections (DOC) facility or through parole or suspended sentence will receive a discharge certificate.

These certificates are necessary for inmates to regain their rights as citizens. Discharge certificates vary by state. For instance, discharged inmates in South Dakota can regain their voting rights.

Upon the prisoners’ release, they usually face a challenging environment that often deters them from becoming productive members of society.

Because of systemic societal and legal barriers, released ex-offenders often find it more difficult to find gainful employment, secure housing, and fulfill an expected functional role in society than the general public.

Additionally, some people may have a skewed perception of ex-offenders that may cause these former prisoners to feel perpetually punished for their crimes.

What Is It Called When You Are Let Out of Jail Early?

Two common ways prisoners get out of jail early are through parole or probation.

The Department of Justice (DOJ) mentioned that at the end of 2021, the U.S. had an estimated 3.7 million adult inmates under community supervision. Community supervision includes parole and probation.

Prisoners and Prisoner Reentry

In the U.S., more than 10,000 individuals get released from federal and state prisons weekly and reenter the country’s communities. However, studies show that out of more than 650,000 ex-offenders released annually from prison, about two-thirds will likely get rearrested within three years of their release.

This high volume of individuals getting released and returning to prison reflects the tremendous growth in the country’s prison population in the last 30 years.

Releasing these ex-offenders can create numerous challenges, especially for the communities where most former prisoners return. These communities include disenfranchised and impoverished neighborhoods with persistently high crime rates and few social supports.

Additionally, released prisoners often return to the community with no job, money, or place to live. With these challenges, the chances of returnees facing the same situations and pressures that placed them in jail in the first place can significantly increase.

Concerned individuals must find ways to help people released from prison avoid committing crimes again and getting rearrested. People who want to help ex-prisoners in their reentry into the community may offer the following:

  • Assisting ex-prisoners in searching for and maintaining employment
  • Identifying transitional housing
  • Receiving mentoring

Types of Release

Inmates have various options for release, depending on the state, sentence, or judge’s decision. The succeeding sections will discuss some of these release types.


Parole is an inmate’s release into the community before their sentence expires. It is subject to conditions imposed by the state’s parole board and supervised by the DOC.

Sometimes, offenders may have pre-parole conditions that they must complete before the parole board releases them for supervision. These terms include the following:

  • Attending and completing various classes like pro-social life skills
  • Participating in group therapy
  • Joining a therapeutic community

The board can also give parolees post-parole conditions to comply with as part of their parole supervision. These special conditions include, but are not limited to, substance use assessment or release to a halfway house.

A halfway house is a facility where individuals with criminal histories learn the skills necessary to reintegrate as law-abiding, productive community members.

The parole board only immediately releases parolees from prison once a probation parole officer approves a release plan. This plan identifies where the parolee will live and work after imprisonment.

Additionally, parolees must adhere to several conditions to avoid returning to prison. These terms can vary by state but usually include the following:

  • Remaining within a specific geographic area
  • Maintaining employment
  • Refraining from drinking alcohol or visiting bars
  • Paying supervision fees
  • Observing the prohibition against the possession of firearms
  • Obtaining permission to change residence
  • Submitting to parole officers’ home, person, or vehicle searches at any given time
  • Complying with state or federal laws


Courts can order an offender to serve probation, a period of correctional community supervision that is usually an alternative to incarceration. Depending on the state or judge, probation can be a combination of imprisonment followed by a period of community supervision.

In 2020, the U.S. probation population was around 3.05 million. This figure is lower than the previous year and featured the lowest number of offenders on probation since 2005.

When an offender is under probation, the court places them under a probation staff member’s control, supervision, and care instead of imprisonment.

The probationer can stay out of prison if they meet specific conditions and standards of contact that vary by state.

Such conditions include the following:

  • Participating in rehabilitation programs
  • Living where directed
  • Submitting to drug and alcohol tests
  • Maintaining employment

To be eligible for release, the offender must show proof to the court that they have met all probation conditions. Failure of a probationer to comply with these conditions can result in the court revoking the probation and requiring the inmate to serve a jail sentence.

Determinate Release

A determinate release is a special kind of probation in which offenders must follow the conditions set forth on their determinate release certificate. The state’s DOC is responsible for issuing determinate release certificates.

Some states provide this type of release as an alternative to probation. In Tennessee, an offender with a felony sentence of at least one year but not more than two years may qualify for determinate release probation. The inmate must have served at least 30% of their sentence length to become eligible for this release.

Before the inmate’s release, the state usually notifies the sheriff, district attorney, and prison warden that the offender qualifies to leave prison. This notice allows concerned individuals to object to the offender’s release and file a petition to the sentencing court.

Community Corrections

Some states offer community corrections programs to allow the sentencing of nonviolent felony offenders to community-based activities. These activities can serve as alternatives to incarceration, a sentence that should be reserved for violent offenders.

While the conditions for community corrections can differ by state, this program’s general goal is to reduce the probability of offenders continuing their criminal behavior while maintaining general public safety.

The community corrections program creates an opportunity to divert taxpayer dollars from the high incarceration costs incurred by detaining nonviolent offenders to potentially meaningful programs benefiting the community and contributing to rehabilitation.

The state can use these taxes to establish contracts with qualified private agencies and local governments to develop community-based supervision services for eligible offenders.

Other benefits of community corrections include:

  • Offering local courts more sentencing options
  • Assisting victims
  • Providing public service to local governments

Some People Released During COVID Are Sent Back to Prison With Little or No Warning

In March 2020, the U.S. Congress passed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. This law was a $2 trillion stimulus bill to help lessen the adverse economic impact due to the global COVID-19 pandemic.

The CARES Act also allowed the U.S. Justice Department to order the release of inmates in federal prisons and place them in home confinement. This order released more than 11,000 prisoners.

From this number, only 17 offenders committed new crimes, according to a Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) report. This figure represents a 0.15% recidivism rate (tendency to reoffend), which was significantly low for a nation where 30% to 65% of ex-prisoners are likely to reoffend within three years of their release.

The low recidivism rate suggests that the U.S. justice system can safely release many prisoners into the community.

Despite this development, the BOP reported that of the individuals released during the COVID-19 pandemic, 442 got sent back to prison. Among this number, around 230 people returned for alleged drug or alcohol use.

One of the reasons these individuals returned to prison was failing to answer the phone when their probation officer contacted them. Even unexpected circumstances not entirely the ex-prisoner’s fault, like having their ankle monitor give a false signal about their location, can send them back to prison.

Such reasons may create misunderstandings and miscommunications, leading to offenders inadvertently violating their parole or probation conditions.

Experts suggest that these possibilities should be reason enough to ensure due process rights for offenders at risk of returning to prison. These rights include allowing offenders to see the evidence against them and having a hearing before a neutral judge.

Search for Inmates

The number and types of prisons across the U.S. can make searching for an incarcerated family member challenging.

Look Up Inmate can help by providing an online search platform that can assist you in finding inmate records or prison facilities where your loved one may be incarcerated.

The U.S. criminal justice system holds almost two million people in thousands of correctional facilities. These institutions include:

  • State prisons
  • Federal prisons
  • Local jails
  • Juvenile correctional facilities
  • Immigration detention facilities
  • Indian country jails
  • Military prisons
  • Civil commitment centers
  • State psychiatric hospitals
  • Prisons in the U.S. territories

Through’s online inmate search tool, you can find jail and arrest records, mugshots, and judicial reports in one place. You can also search by jail name, jail type, or state to make your inquiry more convenient.


  1. Number of residents on parole in the United States from 2005 to 2020
  2. Inmate Releases
  3. The Challenges of Prisoner Re-Entry Into Society
  4. Probation and Parole in the United States, 2021
  5. Prisoners and Prisoner Re-Entry
  6. Types of Release
  7. Halfway House
  8. Probation and Parole in the United States, 2019
  9. Number of residents on probation in the United States from 2005 to 2020
  10. What Is the CARES Act?
  11. Released during COVID, some people are sent back to prison with little or no warning
  12. Mass Incarceration: The Whole Pie 2023

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