Criminal Law

What Is a Parole Board?

In the U.S., one in every 55 adults is on probation or parole. The rate varies by state, from 1 in 168 in New Hampshire to 1 in 18 in Georgia. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, part of the U.S. Department of Justice, Black adults are 3.5 times more likely to be on supervised release. From 1990 to 2016, the rate of women on parole or probation nearly doubled to over 1 million.

Why is a prisoner released on parole before the end of their sentence? Parole provides an opportunity for people to get back into society. Jailing people is expensive, and many inmates do not represent a danger to society.

But getting out of jail early isn't guaranteed. It may be up to the parole board to determine whether you get out of prison after serving the minimum sentence or remain behind bars. Parole boards have a lot of power, and unfortunately, they are restrictive on granting supervised release, even for model prisoners with a low risk of recidivism or danger to the community.

It is important to understand how parole boards work to have the best chance of early release and getting back to living a normal life.

How Do Parole Boards Work?

Parole boards are made up of a panel of people who decide when to release a prisoner. Parole is a form of supervised release that allows offenders to serve the remainder of their sentences outside of prison. Being on parole means submitting to a number of restrictions, including a curfew, check-ins with your parole officer, and random drug tests.

Almost all states have parole boards, typically part of a state's department of corrections, and each state has its own parole system. Parole board members are generally appointed by a governor or other executive committee.

Some states have specific qualifications and requirements for parole board members, but others allow anyone to serve on the board. Depending on the state, members may include those with training or experience in law enforcement, law, government, corrections, or criminal justice.

Parole Board Decisions

Before a parolee comes before the board, a parole examiner may review your case and make a report. The examiner's report generally comes with recommendations for whether to grant release and the terms of release. Some of the factors the parole examiner and board consider include:

  • Your age and whether this was your first offense
  • Whether the offense was a violent crime
  • Your education and employment history
  • If you faced any disciplinary violations in prison or have a record of good behavior
  • Your physical and mental health
  • The victim's input
  • The probability of rehabilitation or whether you pose a risk to society
  • Evidence of remorse and accountability

Many states have a scoring formula to evaluate when to grant parole to inmates. However, the parole board may or may not agree with the parole report. Unfortunately, political considerations may also be a factor and could reduce your chances of release.

Many of the parole board's decisions take place behind closed doors, without the parolee getting a chance to explain their side of the story. You may find that the parole board denied your release with no substantive reasons for the decision. If the board does hear from you, it may have an impact on the panel's decision whether to grant your release. Letters and input from supporters can also improve your chances.

Non-Prison Facilities

Some states have non-prison facilities for inmates on parole. These act like halfway houses between jail and returning home, and may come with conditions, including:

  • Curfew
  • Counseling
  • Restricted access
  • Sober living

A parole board may make living in a non-prison facility a condition of granting parole. If they do not, they may instead require you to wear an ankle monitor.

Parole Violations After Your Release

Parole is generally conditional on following the parole restrictions and requirements. Your parole officer may issue a warning for a minor violation or report the violation to the parole board. Violating the terms of parole can lead to a parole revocation hearing. Parole revocation could mean going back to prison to serve the remainder of your original sentence.

Getting an Attorney's Help for Parole Board Hearings

It is important to be prepared before a parole board hearing to have the best chance of release. You may be able to have a criminal defense attorney represent you in a parole board hearing. An experienced lawyer can advocate for you and may be able to negotiate with the state to secure conditions for your potential parole. Many criminal defense attorneys also have experience in these hearings, and they know what parole boards are looking for when it comes to considering granting release.

If you are able, it would likely be beneficial to have an attorney in your corner if you are appearing before a parole board.