Criminal Law

Parole Definition

What Is Parole?

Parole occurs when a prisoner is released early to serve out the remainder of their sentence in the community. Parole can be included as part of the original prison sentence or be granted for demonstrating good behavior. Parole is not available for all criminal offenses.

Parole comes with conditions. At a minimum, the parolee must report to a supervising officer regularly. Drug testing, anger management classes, and travel restrictions may also be included. Violating the conditions means parole can be revoked.

Parole derives from the French word parole, meaning pledge. Prisoners are pledging to be good citizens and meet the conditions of parole if granted an early release.

Key Takeaways

  • Parole is the early release from prison.
  • Not all prisoners are eligible for parole.
  • Prisoners can get released on parole for demonstrating good behavior.
  • Parole is similar to probation but parole occurs after imprisonment, while probation is an alternative to imprisonment.

Who Is Eligible for Parole?

The federal government and states each have their own parole system. At the federal level, a prisoner may not be eligible for reentry into the community until after the minimum time stated in the sentencing order. Then, the United States Parole Commission will have a parole hearing to decide whether parole is appropriate.

States often approach parole differently. In some states, for example in Minnesota, prisoners must serve two-thirds of their sentences and the remaining time under community supervision. There is no parole board. In Texas, on the other hand, prisoners become eligible once time served plus good conduct time equals 25% of the sentence, and the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles then decides which eligible offenders to release.

Both federal and state governments prohibit parole for some serious offenses, such as those that come with a life sentence.

Meeting Parole Conditions

The conditions of parole are strict and a single violation can mean a return to prison. If the parole violation is concerning enough there will be another hearing to determine if you will be imprisoned again. In some cases, a minor or technical violation can just mean additional conditions, but any violation, even if minor or technical, can lead to serious consequences.

Not everyone will necessarily have the same conditions and restrictions. Typically, conditions of parole may include some or all of the following:

  • Meeting with your parole officer and paying supervision fees
  • Finding and maintaining a job
  • Getting permission to move your home or leave the city
  • Not using drugs or alcohol or entering bars
  • Not having a gun
  • Not associating with previous accomplices or people with criminal records
  • Successfully passing regular drug and alcohol tests
  • Otherwise obeying all laws
  • Other conditions and restrictions based on the type of offense you are serving time for

Differences Between Parole and Probation

Parole and probation are similar in concept and can often be confused. Probation is an alternative sentence imposed by the court, meaning someone on probation will not serve time behind bars. A parolee, on the other hand, has already been imprisoned for some time before being released to serve out the remainder of their sentence.

Both include strict conditions, however, and violating either probation or parole can lead to significant consequences.

Related Terms