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Parole is the conditional release of a person convicted of a crime prior to the expiration of the term of imprisonment.  Parole is usually subject to the supervision of the correctional authorities during the remainder of the term.  Upon the violation of the conditions on which a prisoner is released, s/he is send back to the prison.

There is no constitutional or inherent right of a convicted person to be conditionally released before the expiration of a valid sentence.  The natural desire of an individual to be released is indistinguishable from the initial resistance to being confined.  However, the conviction, with all its procedural safeguards, has extinguished that liberty right:  upon a valid conviction, the criminal defendant is constitutionally deprived of his/ her liberty[i].

Parole is regulated by statutes.  The provisions regulating parole vary from state to state.  State statutes create liberty interests that are entitled to the procedural protections of the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.  The Due Process Clause applies when government action deprives a person of liberty or property[ii].  All persons born or naturalized in the U.S., and subject to the jurisdiction of the U.S., are citizens of the U.S. and of the State wherein they reside.  No State should make or enforce a law abridging the privileges or immunities of citizens of the U.S.  A state should not deprive a person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.  Moreover, a state should not deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws[iii].

A state-created parole system serves the public-interest purposes of rehabilitation and deterrence.  Parole boards possess the authority to release prisoners from confinement.  The Board of Parole releases a committed offender eligible for release on parole.  The Board denies parole when:

  • there is a substantial risk that he will not conform to the conditions of parole;
  • the release would depreciate the seriousness of his crime or promote disrespect for law;
  • the release would have a substantially adverse effect on institutional discipline; or
  • his/her continued correctional treatment, medical care, vocational or other training in the facility will substantially enhance his/ her capacity to lead a law-abiding life.[iv]

The granting of authority to an administrative body to grant or deny paroles has also been upheld as not violative of the executive’s constitutional right to pardon.

The power to grant or deny the parole of federal prisoners is vested in a parole commission.  A denial of parole merely requires a prisoner to serve out the length of his/ her sentence.  Denial of parole does not enhance the sentence imposed upon the prisoner by the court.  Moreover, parole is only an expectation that is granted by the commission.

The Commission is empowered to apply the guidelines in parole release decisions.  Additionally, the Commission is empowered to grant or deny parole in spite of the guidelines.  However, the commission must record good cause for denying a parole[v].  Good cause for denying a release on parole notwithstanding parole guidelines means a substantial reason and includes only those grounds put forward by the parole commission in good faith and which are not arbitrary, irrational, unreasonable, irrelevant or capricious[vi].

A prisoner is not eligible for parole until reaching his/ her release eligibility date.  The release eligibility date is the earliest date an inmate convicted of a felony is eligible for parole.  The eligibility date is conditioned on the inmate’s good behavior while in prison.  A prisoner does not have a right to be released on parole[vii].

Parole is granted when:

  • a prisoner substantially observes the rules of the institution to which s/he has been confined; and
  • the commission upon consideration of the nature and circumstances of the offense and the history and characteristics of the prisoner, determines that release would not depreciate the seriousness of the offense or promote disrespect for the law and that release would not jeopardize the public welfare.

Parole a privilege, not a right[viii].  A State has no duty to establish a parole system or to provide for parole for all categories of convicted persons[ix].

A parole board can impose appropriate conditions for granting parole.  The conditions of parole serve the following purposes:

  • conditions prohibit absolutely or conditionally, the behavior which is deemed dangerous to the restoration of the individual into normal society; and
  • Conditions provide the parole officer with information about the parolee and an opportunity to advise the prisoner.

A parolee must report to the parole officer, seek guidance and permission before doing restricted things.  However, the restrictions must not be arbitrary or unreasonable.  Additionally, there must be a rational basis in the record for restrictions and conditions.  The conditions of parole must be reasonably and necessarily related to the government’s interest in rehabilitating the parolee and in protecting the society.

[i] Greenholtz v. Inmates of Neb. Penal & Correctional Complex, 442 U.S. 1, 7 (U.S. 1979.

[ii] Id.

[iii] USCS Const. Amend. 14, § 1.

[iv] Greenholtz v. Inmates of Neb. Penal & Correctional Complex, 442 U.S. 1, 11 (U.S. 1979).

[v] 18 USCS § 3551.

[vi] Harris v. Martin, 792 F.2d 52 (3d Cir. Pa. 1986).

[vii] Horton v. Parole Eligibility Review Bd., 2000 Tenn. App. LEXIS 701, 6-7 (Tenn. Ct. App. Oct. 20, 2000).

[viii] Lopez v. Crist, 176 Mont. 352 (Mont. 1978).

[ix] Board of Pardons v. Allen, 482 U.S. 369, 378 (U.S. 1987).

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