How does the Parole System Work?

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  • Written By: Henry Gaudet
  • Edited By: A. Joseph
  • Last Modified Date: 16 January 2020
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The parole system allows for the early release of some prisoners under controlled conditions. The rules of eligibility for parole vary depending on the crime and the jurisdiction, and those seeking parole might make their case for early release to a parole board or committee. After being approved for parole, the parolee is released from prison but must demonstrate that all conditions of parole are met through regular contact with a parole officer.

Eligibility is the first step of the parole system. Conditions for eligibility are set out by the region's laws and the sentence handed down by the courts. The prisoner usually is required to complete a defined portion of the sentence, and conviction of some crimes might not allow any chance of parole. Even then, the parole system is not an automatic process. After becoming eligible, the prisoner can apply for parole and present a case to the parole board.


When considering whether to allow a person into the parole system, the parole board will look at a number of issues relating to the case. The nature of the crime committed, the inmate’s previous criminal record and his or her behavior while in prison will be considered. Parole board members also are likely to look for evidence of remorse and an understanding of the severity of the crime committed. Other interested parties, including the prisoner’s friends and family, as well as the victims of the crime, might in some cases be permitted to give statements that could help the board reach a decision.

Parole often comes with conditions attached. Time in a halfway house, where the parolee is released from prison but remains under a high level of supervision, might be required. During this time, the parolee may seek employment, visit with friends and family members and move freely within the community, but he or she must account for all movement and adhere to a strict curfew. House personnel are tasked with determining when an individual is ready to move to the next step in the parole system.

Any portion of the sentence remaining is served on parole. The parolee must meet regularly with a parole officer, confirming that all conditions of parole are being met. For instance, cases involving addiction might require regular counseling and abstinence from drugs and alcohol. A parolee might be required to find and maintain regular employment. All conditions of parole are made clear to the parolee prior to his or her release.

Surprise visits and inspections also might take place. A parole officer might come to a parolee’s home or workplace to look for evidence of parole violations. Signs of drugs, alcohol or weapons can have an impact on the parolee’s continued freedom.

Evidence of parole violations usually result in an arrest warrant. The parole board reviews the case to determine whether parole should be revoked. In most cases of parole violation, the individual is required to serve out the sentence in prison.


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