During a parole hearing, individuals responsible for deciding whether an inmate should be paroled, typically called a parole board, will hear information about the original crime and receive more information about the inmate's current status and ability to function in society. In many cases, victims, witnesses, and other interested parties, along with the general public, may be invited to comment on the proceedings and offer their own opinions as to a convict's fitness for parole. Once presented with this information, the parole board will then make a decision as to whether the convict should be granted parole. When an inmate is granted parole, the parole board may also use the parole hearing to determine the conditions under which the inmate is to spend his parole.
The parole system is designed to relieve the prison system of some of the burden of caring for inmates who have demonstrated that they can function responsibly outside the prison system. Inmates who have served a portion of their sentence can apply to be paroled, or released into society, under certain conditions and the supervision of a parole officer. In many cases, a prisoner must first complete a written application for parole. After the application is received by the agency that manages correctional institutions, a parole hearing is scheduled. At the hearing, the parole board will review the inmate's case and give the inmate a chance to speak on his own behalf.
In addition to reviewing the inmate's records and allowing the inmate to speak for himself, the parole hearing usually includes an opportunity for board members to ask the inmate questions about his crime, his behavior in prison, and his plans for supporting himself after his release. In some cases, letters from friends, family members, and others will be read and other parties can testify for or against awarding parole to the convict. The decision for or against parole may be made during the parole hearing or at a later date, depending on local rules.
In the United States, not all jurisdictions offer parole to inmates, and even in areas that do, parole boards or committees may not actually meet in person, but may instead receive an inmate's application for parole, as well as documentation pertaining to his crime and his potential for rehabilitation for private review. The parole board may then separately submit its opinions to the board chairperson. In cases where an inmate's application for parole is denied, the inmate may have the right to appeal the board's decision.