Parole in the United States

Release of a prisoner prior to the end of a criminal sentence. The release of a prisoner on parole is conditional. The person is supervised during the release period by a parole officer. Failure to conform to the conditions of parole results in its revocation and the person is returned to prison. Revocation of parole requires a formal hearing to determine if the conditions of parole have been violated. A parolee is entitled to representation by counsel at such a hearing. Parole is administered by parole or correctional boards at the state level. When Congress adopted fixed sentences in 1984, the federal parole system was essentially eliminated. Federal prisoners may, however, gain early release through a process of awarding “good time,” days off sentences for good behavior. Parole obtained at the discretion of the parole board is generally earned by appropriate conduct and a probability that the convict will behave properly if released. (1)

Analysis and Relevance

Parole serves two principal functions. First, it can facilitate offender rehabilitation. Release into a supervised situation theoretically enhances the probabilities of successful reintegration into society. Second, early release programs such as parole is a necessary component of administering prisons. Early release provides incentive for prisoners to behave, a key to maintaining order in penal institutions. Parole can also be used as a device to reduce facility overcrowding. At the same time, many states have turned away from indeterminate sentences in a belief that fixed sentences are more effective deterrents. This has led to a decline in the use of parole systems. Parole is distinguished from probation in that the former is an executive action taken after a period of incarceration while probation is an actual sentence imposed by a judge, which does not include physical detention. (2)

Parole International Definition

This definition of Parole is based on the The Cyclopedic Law Dictionary :

  • In International Law. The agreement of persons who have been taken by an enemy that they will not again take up arms against those who captured them, either for a limited time or during the continuance of the war.
  • In Criminal Law. A form of conditional pardon, by which the convict is released before the expiration of his term, to remain subject, during the remainder thereof, to supervision by the public authorities, and to return to imprisonment on violation of the conditions of the parole. There are more definitions of Parole in the legal Dictionaries.

Life-without-parole sentence for juveniles

The U.S. Supreme Court will soon decide whether a life-without-parole sentence for juveniles constitutes cruel and unusual punishment.

In 2012 there were more than 300 Californians who committed major felonies as juveniles and were serving life sentences without parole. Virtually all of these inmates were convicted of homicide, according to Bill Sessa, a spokesman for the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. (Two committed kidnap for ransom.)

In March 2012 the U.S. Supreme Court considered whether a lifelong sentence for defendants as young as 14 constitutes cruel and unusual punishment, in violation of the Constitution (Miller v. Alabama (pending as No. 10-9646) and Jackson v. Hobbs (pending as No. 10-9647)). The United States was, at that time, the only nation in the world that sentences minors to life without parole.

Meanwhile, a bill pending in the California Senate would allow for review of such sentences for juveniles. SB 9, authored by Sen. Leland Yee of San Francisco, would permit review only after the defendants have served at least 15 years of their sentences.

Many lawyers and experts argue that a critical mass of scientific evidence establishing major deficits of self-control and judgment in the average adolescent’s brain should persuade courts to spare them this most adult of consequences.

“Having an adolescent brain should in itself qualify as an insanity defense,” argues Nevada City attorney Stephen M. Greenberg, who is handling Lewis’s appeal. “Their brains are still forming into adult brains.” The argument doesn’t constitute an excuse, he adds, just as the insanity defense for adults doesn’t qualify as a get-out-of-jail-free card. Nonetheless, he says, “The idea of giving juveniles sentences of life in prison and throwing away the key makes no rational or moral sense.”

Throughout the United States, a total of 73 life-without-parole inmates were 14 years old when they committed their crimes. In California, the youngest defendants were two, both 15 at the time of their crimes.

Their appellate attorneys have argued that the trial judges reached their sentences in error, since state law expressly forbids sentences of life without parole for defendants younger than 16. (See Cal. Penal Code § 190.5(b).)

The California law that permits juveniles to be sentenced to life without parole for murder was enacted in 1990. More get-tough laws followed a decade later, as a product of Proposition 21. Among other things, that ballot initiative mandated harsher punishment for gang-related felonies, and it required adult trials for juveniles over age 14 who are charged with murder or certain sex offenses.

In the United States, as many as 200,000 youths are prosecuted as adults every year. In all but five states in 2012, teenagers can be charged as adults at a judge’s discretion, and 29 states required minors to be tried as adults for some crimes.

Practical Information

The release of a convict from imprisonment on certain conditions to be observed by him or her, with the convict’s sentence suspended during the time of his or her liberty.

Parole in place (Immigration Law

Immigration and Nationality Act section 212(d)(5)(A) gives the Secretary the discretion, on a case-by-case basis, to “parole” for “urgent humanitarian reasons or significant public benefit” an alien applying for admission to the United States. Although it is most frequently used to permit an alien who is outside the United States to come into U.S. territory, parole may also be granted to aliens who are already physically present in the U.S. without inspection or admission. This latter use of parole is sometimes called “parole in place.”

Parole in Foreign Legal Encyclopedias

Link Description
Parole Parole in the World Legal Encyclopedia.
Parole Parole in the European Legal Encyclopedia.
Parole Parole in the Asian Legal Encyclopedia.
Parole Parole in the UK Legal Encyclopedia.
Parole Parole in the Australian Legal Encyclopedia.

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Leading Case Law

Among the main judicial decisions on this topic:

Parole, Probation, and Mandatory Sentencing (Three Strikes Law)

Information about this important court opinion is available in this American legal Encyclopedia.

Ewing v. California

Information about this important court opinion is available in this American legal Encyclopedia.


See Also

  • Criminal Law
  • Criminal Procedure
  • Parole
  • Probation
  • Mandatory Sentencing


Notes and References

  1. Definition of Parole from the American Law Dictionary, 1991, California
  2. Id.

See Also

See Also

Further Reading (Books)

Studies by G. Cavender (1982) and H. E. Allen (1985).

Further Reading (Articles)

PAROLE — TABLE 2: AUTHORITY.(Brief Article), Corrections Compendium; June 1, 2001

PAROLE-HEARING BACKLOG UNDERREPORTED BY STATE, The Record (Bergen County, NJ); July 11, 2000; THOMAS ZOLPER, Trenton Bureau


PAROLE SYSTEM JUDGED HARSHLY, The Record (Bergen County, NJ); April 27, 1997; THOMAS ZOLPER, Trenton Bureau

Parole Boards Are Worth Saving, Corrections Today; August 1, 2007; Hughes, Gail

Parole Release Decisions: Impact of Positive and Negative Victim and Nonvictim Input on a Representative Sample of Parole-Eligible Inmates, Violence and Victims; March 1, 2010; Caplan, Joel M.

Parole Service May Shift to Sheriff, The Register Guard (Eugene, OR); January 24, 2008

Parole is about public safety, W.Va.’s board makes decisions with that in mind, Charleston Daily Mail; February 25, 2003; DOUGLAS STUMP

PAROLE ON THE CHEAP // Illinois Spends Least to Watch Each Ex-con Series: OUT OF PRISON OUT OF SIGHT, Chicago Sun-Times; October 25, 1995; TIM NOVAK MARY A. MITCHELL

Parole System Let Violator Go Free, The Washington Times (Washington, DC); July 19, 2000; Sorokin, Ellen

Parole must be fair, open; Criticism aside, early releases still have a vital role to play in society, writes Professor Julia Sloth-Nielsen.(News), Daily News (South Africa); April 9, 2010

Parole system failed society; Suspects got a common break, New Haven Register (New Haven, CT); July 29, 2007; Gregory B Hladky

Parole chief says board deluged in paperwork, New Haven Register (New Haven, CT); October 19, 2007; Gregory B Hladky

Parole Board Is Reforming Its Policies; Victims Now Have Forum to Be Heard, The Washington Post; May 2, 1996; Bill Miller

Parole chief sets new guidelines, The Record (Bergen County, NJ); August 24, 2003; RANDY DIAMOND, TRENTON BUREAU

Parole rate in state hits a 10-year low, The Boston Globe (Boston, MA); February 24, 1992; Toni Locy, Globe Staff

Wrongfully imprisoned? Parole at issue, The Buffalo News (Buffalo, NY); February 15, 2007; Gene Warner

Parole Board rules expire; prisoners sue, The Boston Globe (Boston, MA); January 17, 1993; Ralph Jimenez, Globe Staff

D.C. Parole System Blamed in 1995 Murder, The Washington Post; January 26, 1999; Peter Slevin

TIGHTENING PAROLE, The Record (Bergen County, NJ); July 17, 1995

Parole and Probation in the Criminal Justice System

Parole in Juvenile Law

In this context, Parole information is available through this American legal Encyclopedia.

Parole: Open and Free Legal Research of US Law

Federal Primary Materials

The U.S. federal government system consists of executive, legislative, and judicial branches, each of which creates information that can be the subject of legal research about Parole. This part provides references, in relation to Parole, to the legislative process, the federal judiciary, and the primary sources of federal law (cases, statutes, and regulations).

Federal primary materials about Parole by content types:

Laws and Regulations

US Constitution
Federal Statutory Codes and Legislation

Federal Case Law and Court Materials

U.S. Courts of Appeals
United States courts of appeals, inclouding bankruptcy courts and bankcruptcy appellate panels:

Federal Administrative Materials and Resources

Presidential Materials

Materials that emanate from the President’s lawmaking function include executive orders for officers in departments and agencies and proclamations for announcing ceremonial or commemorative policies. Presidential materials available include:

Executive Materials

Federal Legislative History Materials

Legislative history traces the legislative process of a particular bill (about Parole and other subjects) for the main purpose of determining the legislators’ intent behind the enactment of a law to explain or clarify ambiguities in the language or the perceived meaning of that law (about Parole or other topics), or locating the current status of a bill and monitoring its progress.

State Administrative Materials and Resources

State regulations are rules and procedures promulgated by state agencies (which may apply to Parole and other topics); they are a binding source of law. In addition to promulgating regulations, state administrative boards and agencies often have judicial or quasi-judicial authority and may issue administrative decisions affecting Parole. Finding these decisions can be challenging. In many cases, researchers about Parole should check state agency web sites for their regulations, decisions, forms, and other information of interest.

State rules and regulations are found in codes of regulations and administrative codes (official compilation of all rules and regulations, organized by subject matter). Search here:

State opinions of the Attorney General (official written advisory opinions on issues of state law related to Parole when formerly requested by a designated government officer):

Tools and Forms

Law in Other Regions

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