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Parole is the provisional release of a prisoner who agrees to certain conditions prior to the completion of the maximum sentence period. Originating from the French parole ("voice", "spoken words"), the term became associated during the Middle Ages with the release of prisoners who gave their word.
This differs from amnesty or commutation of sentence in that parolees are still considered to be serving their sentences, and may be returned to prison if they violate the conditions of their parole. A specific type of parole is medical parole or compassionate release which is the release of prisoners on medical or humanitarian grounds. Conditions of parole often include things such as obeying the law, refraining from drug and alcohol use, avoiding contact with the parolee's victims, obtaining employment, and maintaining required contacts with a parole officer. Some justice systems, such as the United States federal system, place defendants on supervised release after serving their entire prison sentence; this is not the same as parole. In Colorado, parole is an additional punishment after the entire prison sentence is served—it is called "mandatory parole", per §18-1.3-401(1)(a)(V)(B).
Some states in the United States have what is known as "mandatory supervision", whereby an inmate is released prior to the completion of their sentence due to legal technicalities which oblige the offender justice system to free them. In some states such as Texas, inmates are compensated with "good time", which is counted towards time served. For example, if an inmate served five years of a ten year prison term, and also had five years of "good time", they will have completed their sentence "on paper", obliging the state to release them unless deemed a threat to society in writing by the parole board. Where parole is granted or denied at the discretion of a parole board, mandatory supervision does not involve a decision making process: one either qualifies for it or does not. Mandatory supervision tends to involve stipulations that are more lenient than those of parole, and in some cases place no obligations at all on the individual being released.
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 behaviour, labour, 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.
In China, prisoners are often granted medical parole or compassionate release, which releases them on the grounds that they must receive medical treatment which cannot be provided for in prison. Occasionally, medical parole is used as a no-publicity way of releasing an accidentally imprisoned convict.
The Chinese legal code has no explicit provision for exile, but often a dissident is released on the grounds that they need to be treated for a medical condition in another country, and with the understanding that they will be reincarcerated if they return to China. Dissidents who have been released on medical parole include Ngawang Chophel, Ngawang Sangdrol, Phuntsog Nyidron, Takna Jigme Zangpo, Wang Dan, Wei Jingsheng, Gao Zhan and Fang Lizhi.
Until 2001, parole in Israel was only possible after the prisoner had served two thirds of their sentence. On 13 February 2001 the Knesset passed a bill, brought forward by Reuven Rivlin and David Libai, which allowed the early release of prisoners who had served half of their prison term. Although the law was originally intended to help ease overcrowding in prisons, various opponents of the bill began asserting in the Israeli media that the law's real goal was to have Aryeh Deri released earlier from prison. Although the law eventually passed, it did not affect Deri since the parole board rejected his request for an early release.
Libertà condizionata is covered by Article 176 of the Italian Penal Code. A prisoner is eligible if he has served at least 30 months (or 26 years for life sentences), and the time remaining on his sentence is less than half the total (normally), a quarter of the total (if previously convicted or never convicted) or five years (for sentences greater than 7.5 years). In 2006, 21 inmates were granted libertà condizionata.
In New Zealand, inmates serving a short-term sentence (up to two years) are automatically released after serving half their sentence, without a parole hearing. Inmates serving sentences of more than two years are normally seen by the New Zealand Parole Board after serving one-third of the sentence, although the judge at sentencing can make an order for a minimum non-parole period of up to two-thirds of the sentence. Inmates serving life sentences usually serve a minimum of 10 years, or longer depending on the minimum non-parole period, before being eligible for parole. Parole is not an automatic right and it was declined in 71 percent of hearings in the year ending 30 June 2010. Many sentences include a specific non-parole period.
Penologist Zebulon Brockway introduced parole when he became superintendent of Elmira Reformatory in Elmira, New York. In order to manage prison populations and rehabilitate those incarcerated he instituted a two part strategy that consisted of indeterminate sentences and parole releases.
In the United States, courts may specify in a sentence how much time must be served before a prisoner is eligible for parole. This is often done by specifying an indeterminate sentence of, say, "15 to 25 years", or "15 years to life". The latter type is known as an indeterminate life sentence; in contrast, a sentence of "life without the possibility of parole" is known as a determinate life sentence.
On the federal level, Congress abolished parole in the Comprehensive Crime Control Act of 1984 (Pub. L. No. 98-473 § 218(a)(5), 98 Stat. 1837, 2027 [repealing 18 U.S.C.A. § 4201 et seq.]). Federal prisoners may, however, earn a maximum of 54 days good time credit per year against their sentence (18 U.S.C.A. § 3624(b)).
In most states, the decision of whether an inmate is paroled is vested in a paroling authority such as a parole board. Mere good conduct while incarcerated in and of itself does not necessarily guarantee that an inmate will be paroled. Other factors may enter into the decision to grant or deny parole, most commonly the establishment of a permanent residence and immediate, gainful employment or some other clearly visible means of self-support upon release (such as Social Security if the prisoner is old enough to qualify). Many states now permit sentences of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole (such as for murder and espionage), and any prisoner not sentenced to either this or the death penalty will eventually have the right to petition for release (one state – Alaska – maintains neither the death penalty nor life imprisonment without parole as sentencing options).
Before being granted the privilege of parole, the inmate meets with members of the parole board and is interviewed, The parolee also has a psychological exam. The inmate must first agree to abide by the conditions of parole set by the paroling authority. While in prison, the inmate signs a parole certificate or contract. On this contract are the conditions that the inmate must follow. These conditions usually require the parolee to meet regularly with his or her parole officer or community corrections agent, who assesses the behavior and adjustment of the parolee and determines whether the parolee is violating any of his or her terms of release (typically these include being at home during certain hours which is called a curfew, maintaining steady employment, not absconding, refraining from illicit drug use and sometimes, abstaining from alcohol), attend drug or alcohol counseling, have no contact with their victim. The inmate gives an address which is verified by parole officers as valid before inmate is released on to parole supervision.
Upon release, the parolee goes to a parole office and is assigned a parole officer. Parole officers go to parolees' houses or apartments to check on them as unannounced visits. During these home visits officers look for signs of drug or alcohol use, no guns or illegal weapons are in the parolees residence, and look for signs of other illegal activities. Should parolees start to use drugs or alcohol, they are told to go to drug or alcohol counseling and NA or AA meeting. Should they not comply with conditions on the parole certificate a warrant is issued for their arrest. Their parole time is stopped when the warrant is issued and starts only after they are arrested. They have a parole violation hearing within a specified time, and then a decision is made by the parole board to revoke their parole or continue the parolee on parole. In some cases, a parolee may be discharged from parole before the time called for in the original sentence if it is determined that the parole restrictions are no longer necessary for the protection of society (this most frequently occurs when elderly parolees are involved).
Service members who commit crimes while in the U.S. military may be subject to court martial proceedings under the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ). If found guilty, they may be sent to federal or military prisons and upon release may be supervised by U.S. Federal Probation officers.
Parole is a controversial political topic in the United States. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, at least sixteen states have abolished parole entirely, and four more have abolished parole for certain violent offenders. During elections, politicians whose administrations parole any large number of prisoners (or, perhaps, one notorious criminal) are typically attacked by their opponents as being "soft on crime". The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) stated in 2005 that about 45% of parolees completed their sentences successfully, while 38% were returned to prison, and 11% absconded. These statistics, the DOJ says, are relatively unchanged since 1995; even so, some states (including New York) have abolished parole altogether for violent felons, and the federal government abolished it in 1984 for all offenders convicted of a federal crime, whether violent or not. Despite the decline in jurisdictions with a functioning parole system, the average annual growth of parolees was an increase of about 1.5% per year between 1995 and 2002.
A variant of parole is known as "time off for good behavior", or, colloquially, "good time". Unlike the traditional form of parole – which may be granted or denied at the discretion of a parole board – time off for good behavior is automatic absent a certain number (or gravity) of infractions committed by a convict while incarcerated (in most jurisdictions the released inmate is placed under the supervision of a parole officer for a certain amount of time after being so released). In some cases "good time" can reduce the original sentence by as much as one-third. It is usually not made available to inmates serving life sentences, as there is no release date that can be moved up.
In US immigration law, the term parole has two meanings related to allowing persons to enter or leave the United States without the normally required documentation.
Parole is "the agreement of persons who have been taken prisoner 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". The U.S. Department of Defense defines parole more broadly. "Parole agreements are promises given the captor by a POW to fulfill stated conditions, such as not to bear arms or not to escape, in consideration of special privileges, such as release from captivity or lessened restraint".
The practice of paroling enemy troops began thousands of years ago, at least as early as the time of Carthage. Parole allowed the prisoners' captors to avoid the burdens of having to feed and care for them, while still avoiding having the prisoners rejoin their old ranks once released; it could also allow the captors to recover their own men in a prisoner exchange. Hugo Grotius, an early international lawyer, favorably discussed prisoner of war parole. During the American Civil War, both the Dix-Hill Cartel and the Lieber Code set out rules regarding prisoner of war parole. Francis Lieber's thoughts on parole later reappeared in the Declaration of Brussels of 1874, the Hague Convention, and the Geneva Convention Relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War.
In the United States, current policy prohibits U.S. soldiers who are prisoners of war from accepting parole. The Code of Conduct for the U.S. Armed Forces states: "I will accept neither parole nor special favors from the enemy". This position is reiterated by the Department of Defense. "The United States does not authorize any Military Service member to sign or enter into any such parole agreement".
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