Pennsylvania Pardon and Parole Laws
The Parole Board was established by the Parole Act of 1941, which states that “the parole system provides several benefits to the criminal justice system, including the provision of adequate supervision of the offender while protecting the public, the opportunity for the offender to become a useful member of society, and the diversion of appropriate offenders from prison.
General Powers of Board
Pursuant to Pennsylvania law, the board must have the power and its duty must be:
(1) To supervise and make pre-sentence investigations and reports as provided by law.
(2) To collect and maintain copies of all pre-sentence investigations and reports.
(3) To collect and maintain a record of all persons who are placed on probation and parole.
(4) To collect, compile and publish statistical and other information relating to probation and parole work in all courts and such other information the board may deem of value in probation service.
(5) To establish, by regulation, uniform Statewide standards for:
(i) Pre-sentence investigations.
(ii) The supervision of probationers.
(iii) The qualifications for probation personnel.
(iv) Minimum salaries.
(v) Quality of probation service.
The standards for the qualifications of probation personnel must only apply to probation personnel appointed after the date the standards are established. Should any probation personnel appointed prior to the date the standards were established fail to meet the standards, the court having jurisdiction of such personnel may request the board to establish in-service training for them in accordance with the standards.
(6) To adopt regulations establishing specific composition, functions and responsibilities for citizens advisory committees and to receive reports, recommendations or other input concerning parole policies and parole-related concerns from the committees on a regular basis.
(7) To adopt regulations establishing criteria for board acceptance of cases for supervision and pre-sentence investigations from counties that on December 31, 1985, maintained adult probation offices and parole systems.
(80 To enter into contracts for purchasing community services to assist parolees and to supplement existing programs.
(9) To pay the cost of pre-parole drug screening tests for inmates within the parole release jurisdiction of the board, who are confined in a State or local correctional facility, as required under section 6137 (relating to parole power).
(10) To enter into contracts which provide for the continuous electronic monitoring of parolees.
(11) To establish and provide for intensive supervision units and day reporting centers for the supervision of parolees.
(12) To provide information as required under 42 Pa.C.S. § 2153(a)(14) (relating to powers and duties) as requested by the commission[i].
General Criteria for Parole
The statute provides that the board may parole subject to consideration of the guidelines established under 42 Pa.C.S. § 2154.5 (relating to adoption of guidelines for parole) and may release on parole any inmate to whom the power to parole is granted to the board by this chapter, except an inmate condemned to death or serving life imprisonment, whenever in its opinion:
(i) The best interests of the inmate justify or require that the inmate be paroled.
(ii) It does not appear that the interests of the Commonwealth will be injured by the inmate’s parole.
The power to parole granted to the board may not be exercised in the board’s discretion at any time before, but only after, the expiration of the minimum term of imprisonment fixed by the court in its sentence or by the Board of Pardons in a sentence which has been reduced by commutation. Unless the inmate has served at least one year in a pre-release center, the board must not act upon an application of an inmate who is granted clemency by the Governor, is subject to parole supervision and:
(i) whose term of imprisonment was commuted from life to life on parole;
(ii) who was serving a term of imprisonment for a crime of violence; or
(iii) who is serving a sentence under 42 Pa.C.S. § 9712 (relating to sentences for offenses committed with firearms).
(5) Upon parole, a parolee must:
(i) be subject to weekly supervision for the first six months of parole; and
(ii) have any violations of a condition of parole immediately made known to the Board of Pardons.
Furthermore, an eligible offender must be placed on administrative parole one year after release on parole and until the maximum sentence date if the board’s supervision staff determines that:
(i)(A) the eligible offender has not violated the terms and conditions of the eligible offender’s parole; or
(B) the eligible offender has not been subject to the extensive use of sanctions prior to the completion of one year from the date of release on parole; and
(ii) there is no substantial information indicating danger or that placement on administrative parole would compromise public safety.
An eligible offender placed on administrative parole must continue to be subject to recommitment at the board’s discretion and must be subject to the board’s power to recommit and reparole, recommit and review or otherwise impose sanctions at its discretion until the eligible offender’s maximum sentence date. An eligible offender placed on administrative parole must do all of the following:
(i) Make supervision contact at least one time per year.
(ii) Provide updated contact information upon a change in residence or employment.
(iii) Continue to pay any restitution owed.
(iv) Comply with other requirements imposed by the board.
Preparole Drug Screening Tests
Pursuant to the Pennsylvania statutes, the board may not release a person on parole unless the person achieves a negative result within 45 days prior to the date of release in a screening test approved by the Department of Health for the detection of the presence of controlled substances or designer drugs. The cost of these preparole drug screening tests for inmates subject to the parole release jurisdiction of the board, whether confined in a correctional institution or county prison, must be paid by the board. The board must establish rules and regulations for the payment of these costs and may limit the types and cost of these screening tests that would be subject to payment by the board. The board must establish, as a condition of continued parole for a parolee who, as an inmate, tested positive for the presence of a controlled substance or a designer drug or who was paroled from a sentence arising from a conviction. The board may not release on parole a person who is sentenced after February 19, 1999, and is serving a sentence for a crime of violence unless the person has received instruction from the Department of Corrections on the impact of crime on victims and the community.
The department must identify all inmates committed to the custody of the department that meet the definition of an eligible offender. Upon identification of an inmate as an eligible offender, the department must send notice to the board. The board must send notice to the prosecuting attorney and the court no less than six months before the expiration of the inmate’s minimum sentence indicating that the department has preliminarily identified the inmate as an eligible offender. The notice must be sent by United States mail unless the board, the court and the prosecutor have consented to receipt of notice via electronic means. Within 60 days of receipt of notice, the court or prosecuting attorney may file a written objection to the department’s preliminary identification of the inmate as an eligible offender. The board or its designee must approve for parole at the expiration of the eligible offender’s minimum date upon a determination that all of the following apply:
(i) The department certified that the inmate has maintained a good conduct record and continues to remain an eligible offender.
(ii) The reentry plan for the inmate is adequate.
(iii) Individual conditions and requirements for parole have been established.
(iv) There is no reasonable indication that the inmate poses a risk to public safety
Moreover, if the court or prosecuting attorney files a timely objection, the board must make a determination as to whether the inmate is an eligible offender. The board must notify the department, prosecuting attorney and court of its determination no later than 60 days prior to the minimum parole date. If the board determines that the inmate is an eligible offender under this chapter, the board must follow the provisions. If the board determines that the inmate is not an eligible offender under section 4503 (relating to definitions), the board must retain exclusive jurisdiction to grant parole and must determine whether the inmate should be paroled at the minimum date, paroled at a later date or denied parole[ii].
Violation of Terms of Parole
The statutes further provide that a parolee under the jurisdiction of the board released from a correctional facility who, during the period of parole or while delinquent on parole, commits a crime punishable by imprisonment, for which the parolee is convicted or found guilty by a judge or jury or to which the parolee pleads guilty or nolo contendere at any time thereafter in a court of record, may at the discretion of the board be recommitted as a parole violator. If the parolee’s recommitment is so ordered, the parolee must be reentered to serve the remainder of the term which the parolee would have been compelled to serve had the parole not been granted and must be given no credit for the time at liberty on parole.
However, the board may, in its discretion, reparole whenever, in its opinion, the best interests of the inmate justify or require the inmate’s release on parole and it does not appear that the interests of the Commonwealth will be injured thereby. The period of time for which the parole violator is required to serve must be computed from and begin on the date that the parole violator is taken into custody to be returned to the institution as a parole violator.
If a new sentence is imposed on the parolee, the service of the balance of the term originally imposed must precede the commencement of the new term imposed in the following cases:
(i) If a person is paroled from a State correctional institution and the new sentence imposed on the person is to be served in the State correctional institution.
(ii) If a person is paroled from a county prison and the new sentence imposed upon him is to be served in the same county prison.
(iii) In all other cases, the service of the new term for the latter crime must precede commencement of the balance of the term originally imposed.
Where the new term is to be served last or the balance of the term originally imposed is to be served last, and the service is, in either case, in any correctional facility:
(i) Any person upon recommitment must be sent to the institution as must be designated by the Secretary of Corrections or his designee.
(ii) Any female person must be recommitted to the State Correctional Institution at Muncy.
The Pennsylvania law provides that a parolee under the jurisdiction of the board who is released from a correctional facility and who, during the period of parole, violates the terms and conditions of his parole, other than by the commission of a new crime of which the parolee is convicted or found guilty by a judge or jury or to which the parolee pleads guilty or nolo contendere in a court of record, may be recommitted after a hearing before the board. If the parolee is so recommitted, the parolee must be given credit for the time served on parole in good standing but with no credit for delinquent time and may be reentered to serve the remainder of the original sentence or sentences. The remainder must be computed by the board from the time the parolee’s delinquent conduct occurred for the unexpired period of the maximum sentence imposed by the court without credit for the period the parolee was delinquent on parole. The parolee must serve the remainder so computed from the date the parolee is taken into custody on the warrant of the board. Moreover, the parolee must be subject to reparole by the board whenever in its opinion the best interests of the inmate justify or require the parolee being reparoled and it does not appear that the interests of the Commonwealth will be injured reparoling the parolee[iii].
Board of Pardons
Furthermore, the Board of Pardons must have the power to hear applications for the remission of fines and forfeitures, and the granting of reprieves, commutations of sentence, and pardons, except in cases of impeachment, and to make recommendations in writing to the Governor thereon, in the manner provided in and under and subject to Article IV, Section 9, of the Constitution of this Commonwealth. Hearings relating to the granting of reprieves, commutations of sentences and pardons for prisoners serving life sentences or sentences for crimes of violence may only be granted upon approval by a vote of a majority of the members of the Board of Pardons. The Board of Pardons must adopt rules and regulations governing its actions and no hearings or recommendations must be contrary thereto. In cases involving applicants under sentence of death, the application must be filed within ten days of the Governor’s issuance of a warrant specifying a week for execution. The Board of Pardons must provide notice to victims as defined under section 479.1 registered with the Department of Corrections, the Pennsylvania Board of Probation and Parole or the Board of Pardons of the opportunity to offer prior comment on any application which has been granted a hearing by the board pertaining to their case. A victim’s prior comment may be oral or written and must be considered by the board as to the advisability of any pardon or related release and any conditions of release. The board must provide notice to victims of the date, time and place of any hearing pertaining to their case.
However, where the Board of Pardons chooses to hear the application of an inmate serving a life sentence or a sentence of death or an inmate serving a sentence for murder of the third degree, voluntary manslaughter, attempt to commit murder of the third degree or attempt to commit voluntary manslaughter, each member of the Board of Pardons must interview the inmate[iv].
[i] 61 Pa.C.S. § 6131.
[ii] 61 Pa.C.S. § 6137.
[iii] 61 Pa.C.S. § 6138.
[iv] 71 P.S. § 299.