How does parole work?

     I believe that most people are generally aware of prisoners being released from custody and placed on what is commonly known as “parole.”

     However, what is probably not well known are things such as the history of parole, how the process works, if paroles are granted in all cases, and if they are allowed under federal law and in all states.

For today’s column, I will attempt to answer these questions and more.

     The word parole comes to us from the French word “parole” which means “promise” and generally describes when a prisoner is allowed early release and agrees to obey certain conditions under the supervision of a parole officer.

     In the federal system, paroles were abolished with the passage of the Sentencing Reform Act of 1984 for crimes committed after November 1, 1987.

     Prisoners convicted of federal crimes committed before that date are still parole eligible along with a limited number of other offenders.

     As to state paroles, 16 states have eliminated parole with the remaining 34 states having various parole laws and systems.

     In Michigan, parole is provided for by statute under the jurisdiction of the ten member Michigan Parole Board.

     The Parole Board gains jurisdiction when a prisoner who is serving a non-life sentence has served their minimum sentence less any good time or disciplinary credits the prisoner may have earned.

     In most cases, the minimum sentence is set by the judge and the maximum sentence by statute. This is called an indeterminate sentence.

     Parole decisions are made by a majority vote of three member panels of the board.

     The factors used in reaching a decision include the crime the prisoner was convicted of, their age, prior criminal record, risk, behavior in prison, parole guidelines scores, information from the prisoner interview, input from victims, and other sources.

     Paroles are granted only as a matter of privilege, not by right.

     If granted parole, the prisoner may return to the community under the supervision of a parole agent for a specified term under very specific and strict conditions.

     Failure to comply with the conditions can result in a violation of the parole and a possible return to prison.

     Those are the basics. For additional information on Michigan paroles, including paroles for life sentences, go to the Michigan Department of Corrections website.

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