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Who is eligible for parole?

UPDATED: May 24, 2013

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Parole is NOT a right, but a privilege, and as such the question of whether to grant a prisoner parole or withhold it is up to the discretion of the parole board. The board is comprised of qualified people who assess whether the prisoner is ready to live in the free world, or whether they must serve more time; these individuals are generally judges, criminal experts, and psychiatrists, but required qualifications can vary by state.

Typically, the parole eligibility dates are determined by statute, although in some states they can be modified at the discretion of the sentencing judge.

Although the laws vary from state to state, their basic approach is the same. Once a person is convicted of a crime, he is sentenced to a prison term. There are two types of prison terms: indeterminate and determinate. An indeterminate sentence fixes wide-ranging minimum and maximum lengths of time; determinate terms are fixed terms of imprisonment (e.g., 5 years for armed robbery).

If an offender receives a minimum and maximum sentence, once that offender serves the minimum sentence (or serves a specified percentage under some state’s statutes), they may become eligible for a parole consideration hearing. If an offender serves the fixed period of imprisonment imposed by the court, they may be released without further supervision or automatically placed on parole, again depending on the nature and severity of their offense and their potential for re-imprisonment.

Parole Eligibility Date

Each offender has a "parole eligibility date," which is the first time they have the opportunity for parole. This is generally set at one-third of the sentenced term (except in the case of an indeterminate sentence or unless otherwise specified). If the offender is paroled before this date, the prisoner can still not leave until his or her parole eligibility date. If an offender is sentenced to life in prison, without parole, they will not be eligible at any time. 

The Parole Hearing

When an eligible prisoner applies for parole, a hearing is set with the Parole Commission (or parole board). The members of the panel are focused on two main points: most importantly, whether the offender will be a threat to public safety if released, but also whether a release is best for that particular person. Parole decisions are very much based on the individual and specific evaluations. The panel will hear the offender's plea and allow them to make a case as to why they should be paroled.

A parole board will consider many factors in their decision including, the criminal's history, the prisoner's behavior and accomplishments during their time at the facility, details of the particular crime, and what the offender's plans are upon release. After the board has made a decision, they make an official recommendation, which is then reviewed by other experts before a final decision is made. It can also be submitted for further assessment, which could result in denial or approval of the parole request.

Can an Eligible Offender Appeal a Parole Decision?

If an offender feels the decision to deny his or her parole should have been an approval for a legitimate reason such as a suspicion that a panel member has bias against the offender, that offender can file an appeal with 30 days of submitting the original request. There is a National Appeals Board where an appeals form can be obtained. Decisions made by this board cannot be reversed. This board will review the case and then decide whether to reverse the Parole Commission's decision, to uphold or modify it, or to reopen the parole case for further assessment.

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