Parole (also known as supervised release) is the early, conditional release from prison of a criminal offender who is allowed to serve the remaining portion of their sentence in the community. Prisoners generally may be released to parole either by a parole board decision (discretionary release/discretionary parole) or according to the provisions of a statute (mandatory release/mandatory parole).
Parolees may be assigned one of a number of different supervision statuses, including active supervision—which means the parolee is required to report regularly to a parole authority in person, by mail, or by telephone. And some parolees may be on inactive status—which means they are not required to report to a parole officer or authority on a regular basis. A parolee may receive a reduction in supervision due to compliance or meeting all required conditions before the parole sentence terminates.
Under federal law, the United States Parole Commission may grant parole if (1) the inmate has substantially observed the rules of the institution; (2) release would not depreciate the seriousness of the offense or promote disrespect for the law; and (3) release would not jeopardize the public welfare.
Parole under federal law has three primary purposes: (1) through the assistance of the United States Probation Officer, a parolee may get help with issues concerning employment, residence, finances, and other personal matters that may be challenging upon release from prison; (2) parole protects society by helping former prisoners become established in the community, and reducing the likelihood of them committing a new offense; and (3) parole prevents the needless imprisonment of persons who are not likely to commit another crime and who meet the criteria for parole. While in the community, supervised parole is focused on reintegrating the offender as a productive member of society.
Parolees are typically required to fulfill certain conditions and follow specific rules of conduct while in the community, and failure to do so may result in a return to prison or jail.
Laws regarding eligibility for and conditions of parole vary from state to state and are usually located in a state’s statutes—often in the penal or criminal code.