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Alexander Maconochie, a Scottish geographer and captain in the Royal Navy, introduced the modern idea of parole when, in 1840, he was appointed superintendent of the British penal colonies in Norfolk Island, Australia. He developed a plan to prepare them for eventual return to society that involved three grades.

The first two consisted of promotions earned through good behavior, labor, and study. The third grade in the system involved conditional liberty outside of prison while obeying rules. A violation would return them to prison and starting all over again through the ranks of the three grade process

What is Parole?

Parole is the early release from prison, before the prisoner has served the entire sentence. Parolees remain under supervision for the balance of their sentence, and typically must comply with a set of behaviors, called “conditions of parole.” Prisoners are not entitled to parole; rather, parole boards consider a number of factors when deciding whether to grant parole. 

The federal system does not grant parole as just described. Instead, for crimes committed after November 1, 1987, prisoners earn “good time” credits for exemplary behavior while incarcerated; these credits count toward early release. Prisoners whose crimes occurred before the above date are still eligible for parole hearings. At the time of sentencing, no matter the date of the crime, judges can order “supervised release” for any prisoner upon his or her release.

Parolees must abide by certain terms and conditions while they are on parole. These terms include living within state or county lines, meeting regularly with a parole officer, submitting to drug and alcohol tests, and providing proof of residence and employment. If a parolee violates the conditions of parole, his parole will be revoked and he will be re-imprisoned.

Who Grants Parole?

A group of prison officials, not judges, considers state prisoners’ requests for parole. Known as a “parole board,” these officials meet regularly to hear batches of requests. When the board denies parole, the prisoner may, in some cases, be able to appeal the denial to a board of appeals or to a court. Some prisoners may also be able to appeal to the governor to override the denial.

In the federal system, the U.S. Parole Commission handles parole for four groups of prisoners: Those whose crimes pre-date November 1, 1978; prisoners serving time in the District of Columbia; military offenders serving time in federal prisons; and international prisoners (non-citizens whose cases are transferred to the U.S. by treaty).    

Eligible federal prisoners serving sentences of less than 30 years who have committed offenses prior to November of 1987 may, through an application process, receive an initial parole hearing within 120 days of commitment to a federal institution.

Most states post their standard requirements for probation and parole on the Internet.

If you are assisting an ex-prisoner with reentry, it is important to understand what type of community supervision he or she has been assigned and all the rules that apply.

D.C. Code offenders receive an initial hearing when they are within 9 months of the parole eligibility date determined by Bureau of Prisons. Prisoners who apply for parole are provided with a parole release date based upon the appropriate paroling release guidelines, which are formatted in a manner that reduces disparity in release decisions and therefore promotes respect for the system.

For Federal prisoners, law requires the Parole Commission to conduct interim hearings every 18 to 24 months, depending on the length of the sentence. At these hearings, the Commission considers whether there are substantial positive or negative factors that may warrant modifying the release date originally set.

Early release of a prisoner who is then subject to continued monitoring as well as compliance with certain terms and conditions for a specified period.  

Parole Eligibility

Most states limit parole to inmates convicted of certain crimes who have served a certain percentage of their sentence. For instance, offenders who have been convicted of first degree murder, kidnapping, rape, arson, or drug trafficking are generally not eligible for parole.

For other offenders, the parole board will consider each inmate's personal characteristics, such as age, mental stability, marital status and prior criminal record. Parole boards do not grant parole to offenders simply for "good behavior" exhibited during incarceration.

The parole board will also consider the nature and severity of the offense committed, the length of sentence served and the inmate's degree of remorse for the offense. Finally, the parole board will examine the inmate's ability to establish a permanent residence and obtain gainful employment upon release. Parole will be granted if there is no apparent threat to public safety and the inmate is willing and able to re-enter the community.  

Fourth Amendment Rights

The Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution protects the public from unlawful searches and seizures by law enforcement officers. However, this protection does not extend to those on probation and parole.

The homes of those on probation and parole can; however, be searched at any time without a search warrant. If drugs, weapons or other paraphernalia is found that violates the conditions of probation or parole, those items may be seized and used in evidence against the offender.

In addition to revocation of probation or parole, the offender may face additional criminal charges for possessing the drugs, weapons or other paraphernalia recovered during the search.

For further information on the parole system for the state of Alabama, please visit:  

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