People think of parole as simply an early release from prison. It is a form of community supervision for offenders who have already served a part of their prison 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 follow stringent conditions imposed by the parole board. These conditions help prevent the parolee's return to criminal activity. Violating these conditions can result in an immediate return to prison.
In this article, we will discuss the differences between parole violations and probation violations. We will explain how the criminal justice system may grant a prisoner parole and how it processes a parole violation.
Probation and Parole: What's the Difference?
Often, people use the terms probation and parole as interchangeable. For those not familiar with the criminal justice system, the two concepts can become confused. They both involve the community supervision of a convicted criminal.
A judge grants probation as an alternative to prison, usually during sentencing. In contrast, a parole board or hearing officer decides after the prisoner has served some part of their sentence.
Probation can happen in a misdemeanor or felony case. For example, in a misdemeanor DUI or theft case, the court may suspend jail time for the defendant. As a condition of their sentence, they must report to a probation officer and complete programs related to alcohol or substance abuse. Likewise, a court may order payment of restitution as a condition of probation for theft. In a felony domestic violence case, the court may suspend prison time on condition that the defendant complete a batterer's intervention program.
If a defendant on probation commits a new offense or fails to follow their sentencing order, they may face a probation violation charge. If the court finds good cause, it may revoke probation and order the defendant to serve the suspended jail or prison sentence.
Correctional authorities may grant parole to a defendant serving a prison sentence. Parole cases generally stem from felony cases. In most states, only convicted felons serve time in state prison. The time spent in prison before parole eligibility can depend on several factors. This can include the severity and nature of the offense and the behavior of the prisoner after incarceration. How a state defines and structures the parole process will vary.
Before the 1970s, most states used a system of discretionary parole. In such a system, the state parole board reviews individual cases of prisoners. It determines whether they merit an early release supported by parole supervision. This idea of parole comes from a rehabilitative approach to sentencing. The state can grant early release on good behavior. It then provides support to help prisoners transition back to the community. As a result, the convicted person (now a parolee) is more likely to adjust and conform their behavior. They will not return to crime.
Since the 1970s, many states moved away from discretionary parole. They changed the focus to one of determinate or fixed sentencing. By the 1980s, sentencing in several jurisdictions emphasized punishment more than rehabilitation. As a result, states adopted sentencing guideline grids to promote predictability in sentencing. In such states, the caseload of the parole board became limited to only the most serious cases with indeterminate or life sentences. Most felons sentenced to prison no longer had an opportunity for early release on parole.
In jurisdictions that allow parole, the process begins when the defendant has served enough time to become parole-eligible. Once that happens, the defendant can apply for a parole hearing. In some jurisdictions, the board may grant them one. Most jurisdictions will review the following before deciding to grant parole:
- Case information related to the defendant's conviction, including law enforcement reports
- Records related to the defendant's behavior (including completed programs) since incarceration
- Input from any crime victim and the prosecutor's office involved in the case
- Statements from the criminal defense lawyer, the defendant, and witnesses. The focus will be on the defendant's ability to function in the community and avoid future criminal conduct.
Once placed on parole, a defendant must follow all rules and regulations of the parole authorities as a condition of release. Violation of these conditions can lead to parole violation charges and a possible return to prison.
Parole Violations: The Process
When parole authorities decide to grant parole, they impose conditions of supervised release. 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:
- Refrain from all criminal activity and report any citation or arrest for new criminal offenses to the parole officer
- Report and check in to the parole officer as ordered
- Refrain from alcohol or substance abuse and submit to regular drug testing
- Notify the parole officer immediately of any change of address
Parole conditions can also include terms specific to the offense and the offender's background. They may include orders for counseling and payment of restitution. They may set out prohibitions against contacting victims or codefendants. There may be specific rules related to monitoring a parolee's whereabouts. This can include a curfew or needing to carry or wear a GPS device. Parolees must also report any changes in work and living situations. Parole conditions for a sex offender will likely be more detailed. They will include compliance with all sex offender registration requirements.
Failure to follow any condition of release can result in a parole violation. A violation could lead to increased monitoring or other sanctions. It may also result in the parolee's return to prison.
Every parolee must meet with a parole officer, who monitors their compliance with the terms of their conditional release. Often, the parolee will review and sign off on these conditions several days before they step outside of prison.
Parole Violation Charges
Upon evidence that a parolee violated the terms of their release, a parole officer can make an immediate arrest. The officer can detain the parolee for a period of time specified by statute. In some jurisdictions, parole officers must request a warrant from a judge for certain violations. In other situations, the parole officer may issue a summons and notice of hearing instead of making an immediate arrest.
A parolee facing accusations of violating parole does not enjoy the same presumption of innocence that happens in a criminal case. Parole is a privilege, not a right. In most cases, the state grants parole as an act of discretion. Even so, the Fourteenth Amendment imposes due process requirements on the states for parole revocation proceedings. The state must prove the violation by the "preponderance of the evidence." This means they must prove it is more likely than not that a violation occurred. The preponderance standard is a lower standard than the normal criminal case standard of "beyond a reasonable doubt." Parolees also have the following rights at a violation hearing:
- The right to make the state disclose the evidence in support of the violation charges
- The right to present evidence and call witnesses to testify
- The right to cross-examine state witnesses
- The right to have attorney representation, which may include the appointment of a local public defender
At a violation hearing, a parole hearing officer or other official will hear the details of the alleged violation. They will weigh the evidence in the case. Witnesses may testify just like in court. The sworn testimony of the parole officer may be the primary evidence against the alleged offender. After the hearing, the judge or hearing officer will issue a decision. They will decide whether the parolee violated the conditions and the appropriate sanction. This may include anything up to and including full revocation of parole.
In some jurisdictions, there will be two hearings. The first hearing will be to determine probable cause for the parole violation. This may happen in a matter of days for an arrested and held parolee. If the hearing officer finds there was probable cause, then the case will proceed to a second hearing at a later date. At the second and final hearing, the board or officer will issue a final decision. They will decide whether there was a violation and whether revocation is the appropriate penalty. Again, witnesses may testify during the hearing. The parole officer's recommendation can carry great weight.
Parole Violation: State Example
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 take place within a reasonable time. It happens before a parole board hearing officer who is not directly involved with the case.
- The parolee receives written notice of the preliminary hearing and a reasonable time to prepare a defense.
- Each side may present witness and documentary evidence. The parolee can make statements and answer questions, but is not required.
- 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. It 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.
Some states, like Pennsylvania, distinguish between cases involving "technical" violations and those where the state alleges the parolee committed a new crime. A technical parole violator (TPV) breaks a condition of release but does not commit a new criminal offense. In contrast, a convicted parole violator (CPV) commits a new crime while on parole or delinquent from parole. The new charge must be one that could lead to incarceration. In Pennsylvania, the CPV offender must have pleaded guilty or been found guilty in court. Technical violations often result in continued parole with more restrictions. This could include a limited period of local incarceration or an order to complete community service. New criminal convictions often lead to revocation of parole and re-incarceration.
Penalties for a Parole Violation
When parole authorities find a parolee committed a parole violation, they have the option of imposing various penalties. The choice of consequence will depend on the seriousness of the breach and the parolee's criminal history. This can include any history of prior violations. Penalties could include:
- Partial revocation: The court can partially revoke parole, imposing a period of jail time of a specific duration, after which parole can resume.
- Full revocation: The parolee returns to prison for the rest of the original sentence.
- Increased term of supervision: The parole board releases the parolee but extends their 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 does not count as time spent on parole to determine when supervision ends. So, the length of parole supervision gets extended by the parole violation.
- Change in conditions: The parole board allows continued parole but adds new conditions of parole that take effect after the hearing.
- Fines: In some circumstances, the parole board may impose a fine or order to pay administrative costs for a parole violation.
- Criminal charges: If a parolee commits a new crime while on parole, they will likely face the consequences for violating parole. They can also face a sentence for the new offense.
Get Professional Legal Help With Your Parole Issue
Failure to follow parole conditions can cause serious problems. It can lead to parole revocation and a return to prison. If you or a loved one faces parole violation charges, consider getting legal advice immediately. The parole violation hearing process varies from state to state. Talk to someone who has experience in your area. Contact a qualified criminal defense attorney near you today.