U.S. Parole FAQ
By WORLDLawDirect [January 31st, 2011]
What is Parole?
When someone is paroled, they serve part of their sentence under the supervision of their community. The law says that the U.S. Parole Commission may grant parole if (a) the inmate has substantially observed the rules of the institution; (b) release would not depreciate the seriousness of the offense or promote disrespect for the law; and (c) release would not jeopardize the public welfare.
Parole has a three-fold purpose: (1) through the assistance of the United States Probation Officer, a parolee may obtain help with problems concerning employment, residence, finances, or other personal problems which often trouble a person trying to adjust to life upon release from prison; (2) parole protects society because it helps former prisoners get established in the community and thus prevents many situations in which they might commit a new offense; and (3) parole prevents needless imprisonment of those who are not likely to commit further crime and who meet the criteria for parole. While in the community, supervision will be oriented toward reintegrating the offender as a productive member of society.
How does the Commission determine if someone is eligible for Parole?
A criminal offender becomes eligible for parole according to the type of sentence received from the court. The "parole eligibility date" is the earliest time the offender might be paroled. If the Parole Commission decides to grant parole, it will set the date of release, but the date must be on or after the "eligibility" date.
The process begins at sentencing. Unless the court has specified a minimum time for the offender to serve, or has imposed an "indeterminate" type of sentence, parole eligibility occurs upon completion of one-third of the term. If an offender is serving a life sentence or a term or terms of 30 years or more he or she will become eligible for parole after 10 years.
How does one apply for parole?
To apply for parole, the offender has to fill out and sign an application furnished by a case manager. Everyone except those committed under juvenile delinquency procedures who wish to be considered for parole must complete a parole application.
In some instances, the offender may not wish to apply for parole – if this is the case, the offender is provided a waiver as opposed to an application.
How is one notified of hearings?
A case manager notifies the offender when his or her parole hearing is scheduled. The initial hearing will usually take place within a few months after arrival at the institution. The only exception to this rule is if the offender is serving a minimum term of ten years or more, in which case the initial hearing will be scheduled six month prior to the completion of ten years.
What happens at a parole hearing?
A parole hearing is an opportunity for the offender to present his or her side of the story, and express their own thoughts as to why they feel they should be paroled. Many subjects come up during the course of the hearing. These typically include the details of the offense, prior criminal history, the guidelines which the Commission uses in making their determination, the offender’s accomplishments in the correctional facility, details of a release plan, and any problems the offender has had to meet in the past and is likely to face again in the future.
The Commission is interested in both the public safety as well as the needs of the individual.
When is a decision made about parole?
A Parole Examiner reviews the case file before the hearing occurs. A recommendation relative to parole is made at the conclusion of the hearing and in most instances the offender is notified of that recommendation. If a recommendation is not provided, the Examiner may refer the case to the Commission’s Office for further review. All recommendations made at the hearing are only tentative as another examiner review is required before a final decision is made. Usually it takes about 21 days for the offender to receive a Notice of Action advising them of the official decision.
Is it possible to appeal the parole decision?
Certainly. Within 30 days of the date on the Notice of Action, the offender may file an appeal with the National Appeals Board. Case Managers will have a copy of the form used for appeal. After receiving the appeal, the National Appeals Board may affirm, reverse or modify the Commission’s decision, or may order a new hearing. A decision by the National Appeals Board is final.
Decisions made under the District of Columbia are not eligible for the administrative appeal process. These prisoners must appeal through D.C. Superior Court.
What kind of job can a parolee get?
In most cases, any legitimate employment is normally acceptable. Full time work is preferable to part time work; work done continuously at one location is generally better than work in which it is necessary to travel. It is expected that the job will provide enough income to support dependents.
In some cases, the Parole Commission may prohibit certain types of employment. If, for example, the original offense behavior involved abuse of a certain occupational position and there might be a likelihood of further criminal conduct if returned to such employment, than that employment may be denied.
What does a parolee do if he or she has no home to go to?
The U.S. Parole Commission is interested in parolees having a suitable place to live. Sometimes this is with family or relatives, but in other cases, the Commission may consider an independent living agreement more suitable to the parolees – and the community’s – needs. There is no rigid rule that requires parolees to reside in their home, if they have one, or that they cannot be paroled if they do not.
If I have more questions, whom do I ask?
You may contact the U.S. Parole Commission by writing 5550 Friendship Boulevard, Suite 420 Chevy Chase, MD 20815-7286 or calling (301) 492-5990.
1. Is parole the same as probation?
No. Probation is a period of supervision in the community imposed by the court as an alternative to imprisonment. Parole is the release of a prisoner to supervision in the community after he/she has completed a part of his/her sentence in an institution.
2. Can an offender be allowed to see his or her file before the hearing?
The Notice of Hearing form will tell the offender that he or she may review their institutional file before the hearing. Certain parts of the file are exempted by law from being shown. Such exempted parts will be summarized, however, and the summary furnished to the offender if asked. If the offender asks to see his or her file, or part of it, he or she may inspect any documents, except the exempted ones, which the Parole Commission uses as a basis for its decision about parole. The Case Manager can explain what types of material are exempted by law, and can assist in requesting files for review. He/she can also discuss the possibility of reviewing the offender’s file at some time other than just before the parole hearing.
3. May the offender bring someone into the hearing room?
The Notice of Hearing form provides a place for the offender to name someone as his or her representative at the hearing. The representative should be given timely prior notice by the offender to allow adequate time to prepare for the hearing. This representative would, with the final approval of the examiner conducting the hearing, ordinarily be allowed to enter the hearing room and make a brief statement on the offender’s behalf. The offender may elect to waive representation by initialing the appropriate section on the Notice of Hearing form. Permission must be granted from this individual, and he or she must be given enough time to plan to attend the hearing. The representative may enter the hearing room with the offender and make a brief statement on his or her behalf. Should the offender decide not to have a representative, he or she will be asked to initial the waiver section on the Notice of Hearing form.
4. Who else will be present at the parole hearing?
Generally, a Hearing Examiner from the Parole Commission will conduct the hearing. The Case Manager generally also will attend the hearing. Observers may ask to come into the hearing room occasionally. These are usually members of the institution staff or personnel of the Parole Commission. A person who wishes to speak in opposition to an offender’s parole may also appear at the hearing.
5. Are the hearings recorded?
Yes, the interview is recorded. The offender may request a copy of the recording by submitting a request under the Freedom of Information Act.
6. Does the judge or other court official make a recommendation to the Commission regarding parole?
The Judge who sentenced the criminal offender, the Assistant United States Attorney who prosecuted the case and the defense attorney may make recommendations regarding parole. These recommendations are generally submitted to the Commission before the first hearing and become a part of the material the Commission considers. The Judge's recommendation and the defense attorney's recommendation will be made on Form AO-235. The Assistant United States Attorney's recommendation will be on Form USA-792.
7. Does the Hearing Examiner usually follow the recommendations made by the institution staff?
Institution staff recommendations if provided are given thoughtful consideration but are not always followed, as they are only one of the several factors considered by the Examiner and the Commission.
8. How do any of the following situations affect parole?
A. Institution misconduct. The prisoner is expected to observe the rules of the institution in which confined to be eligible for parole. Misconduct resulting in forfeited or withheld good time indicates that institution rules have not been observed and is a poor argument for parole, but does not automatically disqualify the applicant from Commission consideration.
B. Presence of a detainer. A detainer does not of itself constitute a basis to deny parole. A prisoner may be paroled to a detainer indicating an actual release to the custody of another jurisdiction. If the detainer is dropped, the parole will occur, with an approved plan, directly to the community. In some circumstances, parole may be to the detainer only and if the detainer is dropped, further action regarding parole will not occur, pending additional review by the Commission.
C. Alien subject to deportation. In some cases, the Commission grants parole on condition that the alien be deported and remain outside the United States. In other cases, the Commission merely grants parole to an immigration detainer. In such instances the individual does not leave the institution until the immigration officials are ready to receive him.
D. Case in court on appeal. All persons have the right by law to appeal their conviction and sentence. The Parole Commission recognizes this right and the existence of a court appeal has no bearing whatever on parole decisions.
9. Will parole be granted if there is an unpaid committed fine?
A fine for which an offender is to "stand committed" must be taken care of in some way before the Commission can take action on the "time portion" of the sentence. The usual way to take care of a fine is to pay it. If an offender cannot do so, he or she may apply to take an "indigent prisoner's oath" if the offender can show that there are no funds or assets in his or her possession. A Case Manager can help the offender apply to take this oath. If the offender can neither pay the fine nor qualify for the oath, the Warden or Magistrate might determine that the offender needs all of his or her money or assets to support dependents. In some cases the offender may be able to pay part of the fine and the Warden or Magistrate will determine that he or she needs the remainder of the assets for the support of dependents. In such cases, however, the offender still has a civil requirement to pay the fine at some later date.
If the offender has sufficient money or assets to pay the committed fine but fails to do so, the offender will not be paroled.
10. Are reasons provided if parole is not granted?
Yes, the Hearing Examiner will discuss the recommendation with the offender at the time of the hearing, and the Notice of Action will state the reasons for the decision.
11. If parole is not granted at the initial hearing, will the offender be given another hearing?
By law, if a sentence is less than seven years the offender will be granted another hearing after 18 months from the time of his or her last hearing. If the sentence is seven years or more the next hearing is scheduled 24 months from the time of the last hearing. The first Statutory Interim Hearing may be delayed until the docket preceding eligibility if there is more than 18 or 24 months between the initial hearing and the eligibility date.
12. If the Commission does not parole the offender earlier, can he or she be paroled later on near the end of the term?
If the sentence is five years or longer, the law provides that the offender will be granted mandatory parole by the Commission when he or she has served two-thirds of the term or terms, unless the Commission makes a finding either that (1) the offender has seriously or frequently violated institution rules and regulations, or (2) there is a reasonable probability that the offender will commit a further crime. If an offender is serving a life term or consecutive terms, a Case Manager can explain the law in relation to parole at the two-thirds point.
13. Will an offender be given a hearing just before the "two-thirds" date?
If an offender is serving a sentence of five years or larger, the case will be reviewed on the record shortly before the "two-thirds" date arrives. If the offender is not granted mandatory parole on the basis of a "record review," he or she will be scheduled for a hearing when the Hearing Examiner next visits the institution. A decision about parole will then follow that hearing.
14. May an offender waive parole at the two-thirds point of the sentence?
Yes. If the offender chooses to waive parole at this point, release will occur at the mandatory release date of the sentence.
15. If someone is paroled after two-thirds of a sentence, must they comply with the parole conditions like any other parolee?
Yes. A parolee must abide by the conditions of release, and parole may be revoked if any of them are violated. Parolees will remain under supervision until the expiration of his or her sentence unless the Commission terminates supervision earlier. The reduction of supervision time by 180 days provided by the mandatory release laws does not apply to this type of parole.
16. If parole is not granted to an offender at any time during his or her sentence, when does he or she get out?
Unless the offender has a forfeited all statutory good time, he or she will be released via Mandatory Release. The Mandatory Release date is computed by the institution officials according to how much statutory good time the offender is entitled to and how much "extra" good time is earned. The law states that a mandatory releasee "shall upon release be treated as if released on parole and shall be subject to all provisions of the law relating to the parole of United States prisoners until the expiration of the maximum term or terms for which he was sentenced, less 180 days." This means a parolee should have a release plan as if he or she were going out on parole. The releasee will be supervised by a United States Probation Officer as if on parolee until 180 days before the expiration date of the sentence provided the releasee does not violate the conditions of release, in which case the Commission retains jurisdiction to the original full term date of the sentence.
If an offender is not paroled and has less than 180 days left on a sentence when they are released, they will be released without supervision.
However, if a special parole term is being served, supervision will terminate at the full term date. The 180-day date does not apply.
17. If the Parole Commission grants parole, when will a parolee be released?
If a parolee’s parole plan is complete and has been approved by the Parole Commission following an investigation by the United States Probation Officer, release will be on the date set by the Commission (assuming, of course, that the parole is not retarded or rescinded for misconduct or for some other reason). If the plan is not approved, release may be delayed regardless of the effective date which the Commission set when it granted parole.
18. What type of release plan must be in order?
A release plan should normally include a suitable residence and a verified offer of employment. A parole advisor is necessary only if the Commission or the United States Probation Officer specifically says that one should be obtained. There are exceptions. For example, a definite job is sometimes neither necessary nor possible. The Commission always considers the individual's situation and may waive this or any other standard requirement if it sees fit to do so. On the other hand, special requirements may be added and must be met before release.
19. How can a parolee get a job while still in the institution?
Relatives, friends, and social agencies in the community where a parolee wishes to live or former employers are likely contacts. If a parolee is released through a Community Corrections Center this is also a time during which he or she may find employment.
The United States Probation Officer to whom the parolee reports investigates job offers, and that officer reports back to the institution and the Parole Commission.
20. Must a parolee return to the community from which he or she came?
In most instances, a parolee will be released to the Judicial District in which he or she was convicted or the Judicial District of legal residence. The parolee’s former community may offer the best opportunity for the help and support that will be needed. If the Commission believes, however, that the chance of success on parole is greater in another community, it may order residence in a different Judicial District.
21. After a parolee is released, to whom and when does the parole report?
Unless a parolee is released to a detainer, he or she will go to an approved residence and report within three days to the United States Probation Office shown on the release certificate. The parolee will continue to report to a Probation Officer in person as instructed by the officer. In addition, monthly written reports are required as long as parolees remain under supervision on your sentence.
22. Upon what conditions is a parolee released on parole or mandatory release?
The conditions are indicated on the release certificate presented to the parolee when he or she is released or on the Notice of Action.
If the prisoner is denied parole, he or she will be released at a date provided by deducting the sum total of good time days from the full term date. The conditions of supervision will be specified on the certificate of mandatory release.
23. May any of the conditions of release be changed by the Commission?
If a parolee believes the conditions on the Certificate of Release are unfair, he or she may ask the Case Manager for an appeal form and submit it to the Regional Commissioner within 30 days after release. The Commission will consider the appeal and the parolee will be notified of the decision. While the appeal is pending, the parolee must continue to abide by the conditions imposed.
24. After a parolee is released, may any of the conditions be changed? Can additional ones be imposed?
The Probation Officer or the Commission itself may propose changing or adding to the conditions. The parolee will be notified of any such proposal and will be allowed up to ten days to make any written comments to the Commission. A form for this purpose is made available to the parolee, and it can be used for comments. The parolee may write directly to the Commission (with a copy to his or her Probation Officer) if he or she wishes to have any of the conditions amended or deleted.
25. May a parolee be required to go into a half-way house or undergo some course of treatment for drug or alcohol use while under supervision?
Federal law permits the Commission to require a parolee to participate in any of the programs mentioned for all or part of the time under supervision. In most cases, a parolee will be notified in advance and may submit comments about the proposal to the Commission before the final decision is made.
26. May a parolee own, use or possess firearms after they are released?
Except in very rare situations, federal law forbids anyone who has ever been convicted of a felony from possessing firearms or ammunition. Generally, therefore, parolees will not be permitted to own or possess a firearm or ammunition.
27. How long will a parolee remain under supervision after his or her release?
Parolees will remain under the jurisdiction of the Parole Commission and under supervision of a Probation Officer until the maximum expiration date of the sentence, unless the Commission terminates supervision earlier. If the parolee’s supervision is terminated early, he or she will be given a Certificate of Early Termination.
If an offender is not paroled, but instead mandatorily released, supervision automatically ends 180 days before the maximum expiration date, unless the Commission terminates supervision earlier and issues a Certificate of Early Termination.
28. How does the Commission decide whether to terminate supervision early?
A Probation Officer will submit an annual report to the Commission about a parolee’s adjustment in the community. After reviewing the report including any recommendations, the Commission may decide to terminate parolee supervision early. By law, the Commission must consider a case after the second year in the community (not counting any time spent in confinement since release), and every year thereafter.
After five years of supervision in the community the Commission must terminate a parolee’s supervision unless it finds that there is a likelihood that you will engage in conduct violating any law. Any finding of that nature will be made only after the parolee has had an opportunity for a personal hearing. A parolee may choose to waive the hearing if so desired.
29. What happens if a parolee violates the conditions of parole or mandatory release?
A Probation Officer reports the violation to the Parole Commission and a Commissioner determines the appropriate sanctions, including the possibility of issuance of an arrest warrant or a summons for the parolee to appear at a hearing. The Probation Officer is required to report any and all violations, but may recommend that the parolee be continued under supervision. The Probation Officer’s recommendation is one of the factors considered by the Commission in its decision.
30. Who issues a warrant or summons if a parolee violates parole or mandatory release?
Only a Parole Commissioner may issue a warrant or a summons for a violation of the conditions of release.
31. After a warrant or summons is issued, what happens then?
The parolee is either taken into custody or summoned to appear at a hearing. Custody is usually in the nearest government approved jail or detention center. Unless the offender has been convicted of a new offense, a Probation Officer will personally advise the offender of his or her legal rights and conduct a preliminary interview. The Probation Officer will discuss the charges which have been placed against the offender and then submit a report to the Commission. In this report, the Probation Officer will recommend whether there is "probable cause" to believe that a violation has occurred and whether the offender should be held in custody pending a revocation hearing or be reinstated to supervision. The Probation Officer will advise the offender of the recommendation and the basis for it.
After the Probation Officer's report is received, the Regional Commissioner will either order the parolee reinstated to supervision or order him or her held for a revocation hearing by a Hearing Examiner.
If a parolee is convicted of a new offense, they are not entitled to a preliminary interview because the conviction is sufficient evidence that they did violate the conditions of release. In such case, the offender may be transported without delay to a federal institution for a revocation hearing.
32. May a parolee have an attorney at a preliminary interview and revocation hearing?
Yes, parolees are entitled to an attorney of their choice (or have one appointed by the court if one cannot be afforded). It is the responsibility of the parolee to keep his or her attorney advised as to the time and place of the hearing.
33. Where are the revocation hearings held?
Generally, revocation hearings are held after the offender is returned to a federal institution. Such institutional hearings are held within 90 days from the time the offender was taken into custody on the basis of the Commission's warrant.
If there are sufficient reasons to do so, the Commission may order a parolee’s revocation hearing held in his or her own community or in the community where he or she was arrested. The offender will be entitled to such a hearing only if the offender denies violating the conditions of release, and if the offender was not convicted of a new crime. If a local revocation hearing is requested, the parolee must complete a form. There is a penalty for false answers on this form, and a denial of violation must be honestly made. Local revocation hearings are generally held within 60 days from the date the Regional Commissioner finds "probable cause" that parole or mandatory release was violated.
34. If the offender’s hearing is held in a Federal institution rather than locally, may he or she also have an attorney and witnesses?
The offender is not entitled to appointed counsel, but may secure an attorney at his own expense. The attorney can act only in the capacity of a representative.
35. If the Commission revokes parole or mandatory release, does a parolee get any credit on the sentence for the time spent under supervision?
Generally, if an offender is convicted of a new law violation, he or she is not entitled to credit for any of the time spent under supervision unless serving a YCA or NARA commitment. Also, there is no credit given for any time a parolee intentionally failed to respond or report to a Probation Officer or after a parolee has absconded from his or her area and the Probation Officer did not know where he or she was living. For violation of any of the other noncriminal conditions, a parolee generally will be credited for all of the time spent under supervision in the community.
36. If a parolee is revoked rather than reinstated to supervision, or if he or she is not re-paroled immediately, how long must I serve before the Commission reviews my case again?
The Commission utilizes its guidelines to help in determining the length of time a parolee should serve. The guidelines are the same ones used for inmates who apply for their initial parole hearings. Decisions, of course, can be made above or below the guidelines for good cause.
Under the new law, the power to grant and deny parole for all D.C. inmates convicted of felony crimes was transferred from the D.C. Board of Parole to the U.S. Parole Commission on August 5, 1998.
37. What if the D.C. Board of Parole has made a decision in an offender’s case before August 5, 1998?
The U.S. Parole Commission will adopt any decision by the D.C. Board of Parole prior to August 5, 1998. If parole was denied and the Board ordered a reconsideration date, a rehearing will be held by the Commission during the month specified by the Board. A reconsideration date is not a promise of parole, but gives inmates the chance to improve their point scores through positive program achievement.
The offender should ask his or her Case Manager for placement on the next docket at the institution. Re-application is not necessary.
38. Does the U.S. Parole Commission apply federal parole procedures and guidelines at parole hearings for D.C. Code inmates?
No. The U.S. Parole Commission applies D.C. parole laws and regulations in making its parole decisions. The Parole Commission amended the rules of the D.C. Board of Parole in 1998 to improve the quality of parole hearings, to include in the point score many of the predictive factors that were formerly used to go above the guidelines, and to establish specific rehearing schedules. However, the amended "point score" will be used only at initial hearings conducted after August 5, 1998. At rehearings for applicants who were denied parole by the D.C. Board of Parole, the 1987 point score will continue to be used.
39. Will parole eligibility and good time rules change if an offender is transferred to a federal prison?
No. Parole eligibility and good time credits will continue to be determined under current D.C. laws. Youth Rehabilitation Act sentences will be carried out as before, regardless of where the inmate is housed.
Case Managers should be available to assist prisoners. However, questions may be sent – in writing – to:
U.S. Parole Commission, 5550 Friendship Boulevard, Suite 420, Chevy Chase, MD 20815-7286
The Parole Commission cannot divulge non-public, case-specific information over the telephone. The Commission is interested in having suitable places to live for parolees. Sometimes this is with family or relatives, but in other cases, the Commission may consider an independent living agreement more suitable. There is no rigid rule which requires the offender to be paroled to his or her home, if there is one, or that the parolee cannot be paroled if he or she does not.