What Does It Mean to Be on Parole?

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By the end of 2020, around 3,890,400 adults were serving parole or probation in the United States. This figure translates to 1 in 66 adult U.S. citizens under community supervision that year.

An offender placed under parole usually serves their sentence under community supervision and has to fulfill specific requirements to avoid parole revocation.

Learning how parole works can help you understand the rules and requirements of this sentence so that you’ll know how to qualify for one if you commit a crime or report when a parolee violates their parole conditions.

What exactly is parole, and how does it work? How do you qualify for parole? What are the conditions when you’re under parole?

This article discusses the answers to these questions and explains the types of parole violations leading to parole revocation and how long paroles last.

If you need to look for an inmate who may be serving time under parole, you can use LookUpInmate.org’s online inmate search platform and locate them by jail name, jail type, or state, whether in California, Texas, Pennsylvania, Florida, Georgia, or less-populated states such as Alaska, Hawaii, and others.

What Is Parole?

Parole is the conditional release granted to prisoners before they complete their sentence. A parole officer supervises the parolee to ensure that the person on parole complies with their release conditions.

For example, paroled prisoners must apply for and maintain a job, keep away from drugs and alcohol, avoid committing crimes, and regularly report to their parole officer.

A Detailed Look at Parole

When inmates are released on parole, they are usually discharged before serving their entire sentence handed out during the trial. Parolees spend most of their time under supervision by a parole officer.

A parole board decides whether to release an offender on parole or do so through a statute. For example, the conviction of a crime committed by an offender may require mandatory release or parole. A parolee can have the following types of supervision statuses:

  • Active status: The offender must check in with a parole officer
  • Inactive status: The offender does not have to report to a parole officer, likely due to the parolee having met all conditions of parole before completing the parole sentence

How Does Parole Work?

The parole process requires the following steps:

  • The court determines the offender’s parole eligibility based on the sentence by the judge.
    Incarcerated people must become eligible for parole before the case can continue.
  • A prisoner eligible for parole appears before a parole board to determine whether sending the convict to the outside world is safe.
    Sometimes, the offender’s victim or the victim’s family will attend the hearings to testify about their experience before the board.
  • After considering all of the case’s factors, the board decides whether to accept or deny the inmate’s parole.
    Once the decision has been accepted, the parolee must keep in touch with their parole officer.

Parole Basics

While under parole, inmates can get out of prison early and serve part of their remaining sentence under parole supervision. The following sections discuss the other elements of parole:

Parole Is Not a Right

In a traditional parole system, parole is not a right but a privilege for offenders who appear capable of reintegrating into society.

Some criminal statutes provide eligible prisoners a right to a parole hearing, but specific laws do not guarantee parole. Authorities have the discretion to deny parole to prisoners deemed dangerous for release.

Eligibility for Parole

States have varying legislation on the kinds of convictions that qualify prisoners for parole, like being eligible after serving a lengthy prison sentence.

Meanwhile, courts can also sentence offenders to life without parole (LWOP) as an alternative sentence to the death penalty.

Parole Hearings

After a parole board determines an inmate’s eligibility, the offender appears at a parole hearing. If the board grants parole, the correctional facility releases the parolee into society under the prison authorities’ continued supervision.

What Happens at a Parole Hearing?

Parole hearings allow the parole board to meet the offender, review their crime, and discuss with the offender what the board expects from them before their release.

During the hearing, the board reviews the offender’s conduct, completed programs, programs that have yet to be completed, and other relevant issues.

The offender’s victims can also appear at the hearing to provide statements to the hearing panel. Depending on the victim’s preference, they can provide their statement with or without the offender present.

Parole Supervision

The prison authority supervises the parolee through mandatory visits by a parole officer. Parole services given by the state’s Department of Corrections can provide transitional services like a halfway house accommodation or mental health counseling, depending on the parolee’s needs.

Is Parole a Good Thing?

Parole is when an offender undergoes a time of supervised early release from prison. When properly implemented, this sentencing option provides an alternative to incarceration to help reduce crime and prison costs.

How Does One Apply for Parole?

When an offender applies for parole, they must fill out and sign an application form provided by the case manager.

Everyone, except those undergoing juvenile delinquency procedures, who wish to qualify for parole must complete this application. 

Parole Conditions

While the parolee serves their sentence, they can enjoy freedom to a certain degree in return for complying with specific conditions set by the parole authority. These parole conditions include the following:

  • Maintaining residence and employment
  • Keeping away from drug or alcohol use, or both
  • Attending drug or alcohol recovery sessions
  • Avoiding criminal activity and contact with victims
  • Asking a parole officer’s permission when leaving a specific geographic location

When Is a Decision Made About Parole?

Before a parole decision hearing, a parole examiner reviews the case file and provides a recommendation at the hearing’s conclusion. In most cases, the offender receives a notification of the ruling.

If no recommendation is provided, the examiner can refer the case to the Parole Commission for further review. Recommendations provided during the hearing are tentative. Another examiner reviews the case before making a final decision.

It usually takes about 21 days before the offender receives a notice of action advising them of the official parole decision.

Parole Violation

Violating parole is the failure to comply with its conditions. Depending on what those conditions are, the violation can involve the following:

  • Committing bad acts, like engaging in a new crime
  • Failing to act, like not asking for the parole officer’s permission to leave the state or county

Types of Violations

Major parole violations will nearly always result in you being arrested and compelled to appear before the parole board to find out if you will be sent back to prison. Common examples of major parole violations include the following:

  • Committing and being arrested for a new crime
  • Not reporting to your parole officer
  • Failing a drug test
  • Breaking your curfew
  • Leaving the city, county, or state without your parole officer’s permission
  • Failing to obtain and keep a job
  • Associating with known criminals and felons
  • Selling or using drugs

Parole Revocation or Violation Hearing

During a hearing, the judge or parole board will consider the violation’s circumstances and nature.

The judge or board decides whether to return the parolee into custody. Depending on the jurisdiction’s rules, the prisoner may spend months, years, or the remainder of their original sentence behind bars.

The decision-maker can also grant the prisoner a new parole hearing after serving a specified time.

How Many People Are on Parole?

As of December 31, 2020, the U.S. parole population numbered about 862,100. This number represents a decrease from 2019’s population of 878,900 on parole.

How Long Do Most Paroles Last?

Parole sentences typically last up to five years. But a parole’s length can vary based on the court or parole board’s decision and usually depends on the crime committed and the criminal’s good behavior.

What Does Life With Parole Mean?

A life sentence with parole is when the court sentences an offender to life imprisonment with a possibility of parole. Life imprisonment terms can vary by state.

For example, California serves a life imprisonment term of 15 years to life, meaning the offender must serve 15 years in prison before becoming eligible for parole.

Are You Facing a Parole Violation?

Suppose you are an offender on parole and accused of a violation. Understanding the nature of your offense and its possible penalties is essential so you know how to defend yourself.

In such cases, having an experienced criminal defense attorney can help you develop a sound defense strategy.

Getting Help

Each state has different parole laws that can get confusing if you are unfamiliar with such legislation. Consult a lawyer if you need to know how these laws apply.

A lawyer well-versed in criminal law can explain the parole laws and procedures to you in detail, including whether parole decisions are final.

You can also find valuable information from online resources like government and nonprofit websites.


  1. How does the Parole Commission determine if someone is eligible for parole?

The Parole Commission’s process for determining parole eligibility begins at sentencing. This eligibility usually occurs after the offender serves one-third of their term unless the court imposes a minimum time to serve or an indeterminate sentence.

For instance, an offender with a term or life sentence of 30 years can become eligible for parole after serving one-third of that time or 10 years (30 years x 1/3 = 10 years).

  1. How is one notified of hearings?

When offenders have a scheduled parole hearing, a case manager notifies them of that schedule. The initial hearing usually occurs within a few months after the offender arrives at the facility.

  1. Is appealing the parole decision possible?

An incarcerated person denied parole by the parole board can file an administrative appeal. The offender can also file an administrative appeal from a decision rescinding a prior parole grant.

  1. What jobs can a parolee get?

Any legitimate employment is usually acceptable. Parolees can work part-time, although full-time work is preferable. Additionally, working continuously at one location is typically better than working a job that requires traveling.

The parolee should also consider working a job that can provide enough income to support their dependents.

The Parole Commission can prohibit parolees from working specific jobs, such as those likely to cause further criminal conduct.

  1. What do parolees do if they have no home to go to?

The U.S. Parole Commission prefers parolees to have a suitable place to live. These places include ones where the parolee’s family or relatives live.

The Commission can also settle for an independent living agreement more suitable to the parolee’s needs and that of the community.

  1. Is parole the same as probation?

Parole and probation are different. Probation is a supervision period in the community as an alternative to imprisonment.

On the other hand, parole is the release of a prisoner to community supervision after completing part of their sentence in a correctional facility.

  1. Can offenders be allowed to see their files before the hearing?

An offender may review their institutional file before a hearing through a notice of hearing form. However, specific parts in the file can be exempted by law from being disclosed.

  1. Can the offender bring someone into the hearing room?

The offender can use the notice of hearing form to name someone as their representative at the hearing.

Upon the examiner’s approval, the representative can enter the hearing room to make a brief statement on behalf of the offender.

  1. Who else is present at the parole hearing?

The following individuals can appear at a parole hearing:

  • A hearing examiner from the Parole Commission
  • The case manager
  • Observers, usually institution staff members or Parole Commission personnel
  • A person speaking in opposition to an offender’s parole

  1. Are the hearings recorded?

Hearings are recorded, and the offender can request a copy of the recording by sending a request through the Freedom of Information Act website at FOIA.gov.

  1. Does the judge or other court officials make a recommendation to the Commission regarding parole?

The following officials can make recommendations to the Parole Commission regarding parole:

  • The judge who sentenced the criminal offender
  • The assistant U.S. attorney who prosecuted the case
  • The defense attorney

  1. Does the hearing examiner follow the recommendations made by the institution staff?

The examiner and the Commission can give thoughtful consideration to institution staff recommendations but do not necessarily have to follow those recommendations always.

  1. How do the following situations affect parole?

The following situations affect parole as follows:

  • Institution misconduct: This situation results in withheld or forfeited good time (earned time off from one’s sentence) but does not automatically disqualify the applicant from being considered for parole
  • Presence of a detainer: This situation indicates an actual release of a prisoner to another jurisdiction’s custody
  • Alien subject to deportation: This status grants parole to an alien on the condition that they be deported and remain outside the U.S.
  • Case in court on appeal: This situation recognizes the right of persons to appeal their conviction and sentence

  1. Will parole be granted if the parolee has an unpaid committed fine?

Suppose the offender cannot pay the fine or qualify for an indigent prisoner’s oath. The warden can determine that the offender needs the money or assets to support dependents but will still require payment at a later date.

If the offender has enough money or assets to pay the fine but fails to do so, the Commission cannot grant parole to the offender.

  1. Are the reasons provided if parole is not granted?

The examiner discusses the recommendation with the offender, while the notice of action contains the reasons for the parole decisions.

  1. If parole is not granted during the initial hearing, will another hearing be given to the offender?

For sentences under seven years, the offender can be granted another hearing 18 months after the last hearing. If the sentence is at least seven years, the next hearing will be 24 months from the last hearing.

  1. If the Commission does not grant parole to the offender earlier, can they be granted parole later, near the end of the term?

For sentences five years or longer, the law specifies that the offender must be granted mandatory parole after serving two-thirds of the term.

  1. Will an offender be given a hearing before the “two-thirds” date?

If a prisoner serves a sentence of five years or longer, the case will be reviewed before the “two-thirds” date arrives. Suppose the offender is not granted mandatory parole after the “record review.” They will then be scheduled for a hearing. This hearing requires the hearing examiner to visit the institution. A parole decision follows after that hearing.

  1. Can an offender waive parole at the two-thirds point of the sentence?

The offender can waive their parole, resulting in their release occurring on their sentence’s mandatory release date.

  1. If someone is paroled after two-thirds of their sentence, must they comply with parole conditions like any other parolee?

An offender paroled after serving two-thirds of their sentence must comply with the release conditions. The Commission can revoke the parole if the parolee violates these conditions.

  1. If parole is not granted to the offender at any time during their sentence, when do they get out?

The offender can get out on their mandatory release date. Institution officials compute this date based on how much statutory good time the offender has and how much extra good time the prisoner earned.

  1. If the U.S. Parole Commission grants parole, when will a parolee be released?

After a parolee completes their parole plan and the Commission approves the completion following an investigation by a probation officer, the Commission will set the offender’s release date.

  1. What type of release plan should be in order?

A release plan typically includes a verified employment offer and a suitable residence. The parolee may need a parole adviser if the Commission or the probation officer specifically requires the parolee to obtain one.

  1. How can a parolee land a job while still in the institution?

Parolees can contact their friends, relatives, former colleagues, and social agencies for help with getting a job. The parolee can also seek employment upon release through a community corrections center.

  1. Must parolees return to the community from which they came?

Parolees are usually released to the judicial district of legal residence or where they were convicted. The parolee’s former community can also provide an excellent opportunity for the help and support the parolee will need.

  1. After a parolee is released, when and to whom does the parolee report?

The parolee must go to an approved residence and report to the probation officer, usually shown on the release certificate, within three days.

  1. Under what conditions is a parolee released on parole or granted mandatory release?

The parole board can grant a parole discharge upon finding a reasonable probability that the parolee will become law-abiding and the release will align with society’s welfare and interests.

The parolee’s release certificate or notice of action shows the conditions for release.

If the prisoner is denied parole and released at the full term date minus the sum of good time days, the certificate of mandatory release will specify the conditions of supervision.

  1. Can any of the release conditions be changed by the Commission?

If the parolee believes the conditions on the release certificate are unfair, they can ask the case manager for an appeal form. The parolee must submit this form to the regional commissioner within 30 days after release.

  1. After a parolee is released, can any of the conditions be changed? Can additional ones be imposed?

The probation officer or the Parole Commission can propose changes or additions to the release conditions. When the parolee gets notified of such proposals, they will be given up to 10 days to provide written comments to the Commission.

  1. Can a parolee be required to undergo some treatment course for drug or alcohol use or go into a halfway house while under supervision?

The Parole Commission can require a parolee to attend specific programs like drug or alcohol use treatment while under supervision.

  1. Can a parolee own, use, or possess firearms after they are released?

Federal law prohibits individuals convicted of a felony from possessing firearms or ammunition. In other words, parolees are prohibited from owning or possessing such weapons or ammunition.

  1. How long will parolees remain under supervision after their release?

Parolees remain under the Parole Commission’s jurisdiction and a probation officer’s supervision until the sentence’s maximum expiration date unless the Commission terminates surveillance early.

  1. How does the Parole Commission decide whether to terminate supervision early?

The Commission can consider terminating parole supervision early after reviewing the probation officer’s report and recommendations.

  1. What happens if parolees violate their conditions of parole or mandatory release?

The probation officer reports the violation to the Parole Commission. Afterward, a commissioner decides on the appropriate sanctions, including the possibility of issuing an arrest warrant or summons for the parolee to attend the hearing.

  1. Who issues a warrant or summons if the parolee violates parole or mandatory release?

Only a parole commissioner can issue parolees a summons or arrest warrant for violating the release conditions.

  1. After a summons or warrant is issued, what happens then?

The parolee issued with a warrant is taken into custody, usually in the nearest government-approved detention center or jail. If the parolee received a summons, they must appear at a hearing.

The probation officer will initiate a preliminary interview and advise on the offender’s legal rights.

  1. Can a parolee have an attorney during a preliminary interview and revocation hearing?

Parolees can work with an attorney of their choice or have the court appoint one if the offender cannot afford an attorney.

  1. Where are the revocation hearings held?

The Commission can order the revocation hearing to be held in the parolee’s community or the community where the offender got arrested.

  1. Suppose the offender’s hearing is held in a federal institution instead of locally. Can they also have an attorney and witnesses?

The offender can acquire an attorney who will act in the capacity of a representative during the hearing.

  1. If the Parole Commission revokes parole or mandatory release, does the parolee earn any credit on the sentence for time spent under supervision?

If a parolee commits a new violation, they are usually not entitled to credit for the time spent under supervision unless they serve a Youth Corrections Act (YCA) or Narcotic Addict Rehabilitation Act (NARA) commitment.

  1. If the parolee’s condition is revoked instead of reinstated to supervision, or if they are not re-paroled immediately, how long must they serve before the Commission reviews their case again?

The Parole Commission refers to its guidelines, which are the same as those used for inmates applying for initial parole hearings, to determine the time a parolee should serve.

  1. How has the Revitalization Act changed parole for inmates?

The District of Columbia’s Revitalization Act transferred the D.C. Board of Parole’s power to grant and deny parole to the U.S. Parole Commission. This parole applies to D.C. inmates convicted of a felony.

  1. Will offenders still be eligible for parole?

D.C.’s Revitalization Act does not modify an offender’s parole eligibility. Parole elements like the eligibility date, mandatory release date, and full-term date will continue to be determined based on applicable D.C. laws.

  1. Do offenders still have to apply for parole?

Prisoners who become eligible to apply for parole must still fill out an application for a parole hearing.

  1. What if the Board of Parole has made a decision on an offender’s case before August 5, 1998?

The Parole Commission will adopt any D.C. Board of Parole decisions before August 5, 1998.

  1. What if the prisoner is overdue for a hearing?

The offender does not need to re-apply but must ask their case manager for placement on the next docket (a calendar list of trials).

  1. Does the United States Parole Commission apply federal parole guidelines and procedures at parole hearings for code inmates?

The Parole Commission applies D.C. parole laws and regulations when making parole decisions. In 1998, the Commission amended the D.C. Board of Parole rules to improve the quality of parole hearings and establish specific rehearing schedules.

  1. Are further changes being considered?

Rules can change from time to time. The Commission posts these revisions for public comment and publishes them afterward.

  1. Will parole eligibility and good time regulations change if the offender is transferred to a federal prison?

Parole eligibility and good time rules do not change when an offender is transferred. These rules will continue to be implemented under current D.C. laws.

  1. What is the information about the Revitalization Act?

The Revitalization Act of 1997 requires all felons sentenced in the District of Columbia (D.C.) to be transferred to facilities operated by the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) or private contract facilities.

  1. Will parole be abolished?

Some people consider abolishing parole a necessary consequence for implementing uniform sentencing related to offense severity. Others see this abolishment as a shift of discretionary decision-making to prosecutors and judges but a loss of checks and balances in decision-making.

Many view this narrowing of discretionary decision-making due to parole abolishment as less desirable than having a separate discretionary body (the parole board) involved in tailoring sentence lengths to the offender.

  1. What happened to the District of Columbia Board of Parole?

On August 5, 2000, the D.C. Board of Parole was abolished, and its authority was transferred to the U.S. Parole Commission.

  1. Who supervised parolees after August 5, 2000?

The CSOSA (Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency) of D.C. supervises D.C.-based parolees. Meanwhile, the U.S. Parole Commission will decide to revoke, grant, or deny parole for D.C.-based parolees.

  1. Can an offender’s family and supporters send material to the Parole Commission?

Relatives and supporters of offenders can send material by sending information containing the prisoner’s name and federal registration number to the Parole Commission at least 60 days before the inmate’s hearing.

  1. How do offenders contact the United States Parole Commission?

Offenders can contact the Parole Commission by asking for assistance from their case managers or sending questions by mail to this address:

U.S. Parole Commission 90 K Street, NE, 3rd Floor Washington, D.C. 20530-0001


1. Probation and Parole in the United States, 2020
3. Frequently Asked Questions
4. Number of residents on parole in the United States from 2005 to 2020
https://www.statista.com/statistics/253388/us-residents-on-parole/ 5. Revitalization Act https://scdc.dc.gov/page/revitalization-act
6. Abolishing Parole – An Idea Whose Time Has Passed

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