Parole is often thought of as simply an early release from prison, but it is actually a form of community supervision for offenders who have already served a portion of their sentences. The discretionary release of a parolee allows them to serve the rest of their sentence "on the outside" - but under close supervision. Parole officers ensure that parolees comply with stringent conditions imposed by a parole board or other correctional authorities. These conditions are designed to prevent the parolee's return to criminal activity and to protect the public. Violating these conditions can result in an immediate return to prison.
Often, people use the terms parole and probation as though they are interchangeable. For those not familiar with the criminal justice system, the two concepts can easily be confused because they both involve the community supervision of a convicted criminal. However, while probation can be accurately viewed as community supervision that serves as an alternative to prison, parole is a supervised early release from prison. Another difference between the two is that probation is usually ordered by a judge at the time of sentencing, but parole decisions are made by correctional authorities after the prisoner has served a portion of their sentence.
The length of time that must be served in prison prior to becoming eligible for parole depends on severity of the offense and the laws of the jurisdiction.
How Is Parole Violated?
When parole authorities decide to grant parole, they impose conditions of release that must be followed while under community supervision.
Conditions of release for parolees often include all the standard conditions of probation, along with even more stringent requirements. These requirements always include the following:
1) Refrain from all criminal activity;
2) Report regularly to the assigned parole officer;
3) Refrain from substance abuse and submit to regular drug testing;
4) Notify the parole officer immediately of any change of address.
Additionally, conditions of parole usually include terms specific to the offense and the background of the offender. These can include requirements for counseling, prohibitions against contacting victims or codefendants, and payment of restitution. There are often additional monitoring requirements, such as the need to promptly inform authorities of changes to work or living situations. Failure to comply with any condition of release can result in a parole violation. A violation could lead increased monitoring or an immediate return of the offender to confinement.
The Parole Violation Process
Every parolee is required to meet with a parole officer, who monitors their compliance with the terms of their conditional release. Often, these conditions are discussed in detail and signed by the parolee several days before they actually set foot outside of prison.
When a parolee is accused of violating the terms of their parole, they can often be immediately arrested, without a warrant, by their parole officer, and detained for an amount of time specified by statute. In some jurisdictions, parole officers will need to request a warrant from a judge for certain types of violations. Some lesser violations might result in the issuance of a summons or a notice of hearing instead of an immediate arrest.
When a parolee is accused of a violation, they do not enjoy the typical presumption of innocence that would attach to a person accused of a crime. Because the parolee has already been convicted of the offense that led to their sentence, that barrier of legal protection has already been overcome in the original prosecution of the crime. Parole is a privilege, not a right, and it is granted as an act of discretion. Resultingly, parolees are not entitled to the same degree of protection enjoyed by criminal defendants.
Even with a lower standard, the Fourteenth Amendment imposes due process requirements on the states for parole revocation proceedings. Parolees have the right to contest the determination at a hearing and can call witnesses to testify on their behalf.
At a violation hearing, a judge or parole hearing officer will hear the details of the alleged violation and evaluate the facts of the case. Witnesses can be called to testify, just like in court, and often the sworn testimony of the parole officer is the primary evidence against the alleged offender. In some jurisdictions, a prosecuting attorney will present the evidence against the offender, who is entitled to their own legal counsel (and may qualify for a court-appointed attorney). At the conclusion of the hearing, the judge or hearing officer will determine whether the conditions of parole were violated and what sanction, up to and including full revocation of parole, should be imposed.
In some jurisdictions, a second parole revocation hearing will occur to determine the sanction after a violation has been determined to exist. This hearing would focus less on whether the violation occurred, but more on whether a revocation is the appropriate penalty. Again, witnesses can be permitted to testify during the hearing, and the parole officer's recommendation is likely to carry the most weight.
Within the limits of the Fourteenth Amendment, different states handle parole violations in different ways. As an example, consider the parole violation hearing process in Georgia:
- A preliminary hearing must be held within a reasonable time before a Parole Board hearing officer not directly involved with the case.
- The parolee is given written notice of the preliminary hearing and receives reasonable time to prepare a defense.
- Witnesses and documentary evidence may be presented, and witnesses cross-examined. The parolee can make statements and answer questions but is not required to do so.
- After the hearing, the hearing officer submits a written report to the Parole Board.
- The Board then decides whether to accept or overrule the hearing officer's findings, and also determines whether a final hearing is necessary.
- At the final hearing, the Board will determine, by majority vote, whether the parolee violated a parole condition and whether the violation warrants parole revocation.
Penalties for a Parole Violation
When a person is found to have committed a parole violation, the court, parole board, or other hearing authority has the option of imposing various penalties. The choice of consequence will depend on the seriousness of the violations and the offender's criminal history and any history of prior violations. Penalties could include:
- Partial Revocation: Parole may be partially revoked, imposing a period of confinement of a specific duration, after which, parole can resume.
- Full Revocation: The parolee could be returned to prison for the entire remainder of the original sentence.
- Increased Term of Supervision: The parolee could be released but required to spend additional time on parole. Typically, this cannot extend the parolee's total sentence beyond the original sentence of the court.
- Tolling: The time spent resolving a violation is often not counted as time spent on parole for the purposes of determining the date when supervision ends, so the length of a sentence could be effectively extended by parole violations.
- Change in Conditions: The paroles might be allowed to continue on parole but with additional or more strict conditions of parole imposed after the hearing.
- Fines: In some circumstances, a fine or order to pay administrative costs can be imposed for a parole violation.
- Criminal Charges: Obviously, if a parolee commits a new crime while on parole, they will likely face both the consequences for a violation of parole and the possible sentence for the additional crimes.
Get Professional Legal Help with Your Parole Issue
Failure to comply with parole conditions can cause serious problems and could result in the violator being sent back to prison. If you or a loved one has been charged with a parole violation, do not delay before speaking with an experienced lawyer who knows the how the parole system works and will fight for your rights. Contact a qualified criminal defense attorney near you today.