Parole and probation are often used interchangeably and mistakenly so. Probation forms part of an individual's sentence upon conviction for an offense. Judges issue probation terms instead of jail or prison sentences for a crime. Depending on the circumstances, the courts or probation officers will monitor a defendant’s compliance with the terms and conditions.
Parole is also a supervised program. However, it only applies after a defendant has served a prison sentence for a felony violation. An individual is granted parole after serving a specified number of years in prison, and his/her case is up for review by the California Board of Parole. This board determines an individual's suitability to be released from prison on parole or under supervision. The Los Angeles Criminal Attorney team addresses parole in detail below.
Overview of the Parole Process
Parole is designed to reintegrate individuals who have served prison sentences into the community. The re-entry is surprised to ensure the former inmate abides by the terms of the release.
Each prison sentence requires you to serve out the entire time before your release or serve a specific number of years before your eligibility for parole is determined by the parole board. In other prison sentences, particularly life sentences, the parole board will set up sessions to assess whether the prisoner should serve the entire life sentence or be released on parole. Only individuals serving sentences with the possibility of parole are eligible.
You would not be a parole candidate if you were sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
History of Parole Law
Generally, California’s justice system is a mandatory parole system. It means inmates qualify for parole after serving their sentences unless their release from prison threatens the public’s safety. What constitutes a risk to the public is for the board to determine based on all the facts presented in the hearing.
Before 1977, judges issued prison sentences to rehabilitate offenders. Thus, prison sentences had no significant impact on an individual’s parole eligibility. However, after 1977, the California legislature made incarceration a punishment. The prison sentence issued to offenders would match the gravity of the crime and serve to deter other members of the public from engaging in similar behavior. Following this decision, the prison sentence and the offense an individual was convicted of became critical components in the determination of parole.
It is also important to note that people serving indeterminate sentences like 15-years-to-life or 25-years-to-life must complete a determinate part of the sentence before their eligibility for parole. In the above examples, you must complete a minimum of 15 or 25 years before becoming eligible.
Those serving a determinate sentence are eligible for parole within a year of their MEPD (Minimum Eligible Parole Date).
Other than the years you have served, eligibility also depends on good-time credit.
Factors Affecting a Candidate’s Parole Eligibility
Parole eligibility is dependent on three primary considerations, namely:
- The sentence issued to an inmate, and
- How good credit time applies to the crime
Let us explore each element in detail.
1. Type of Sentence
There are two types of sentences an inmate can receive after the courts find him/her guilty: determinate or indeterminate sentences.
A determinate sentence has a specified number of years. For example, if the judge issues you an eight-year prison sentence, you will have to serve eight years. Eight is the determinate number. Once the offender serves the determinate sentence, they are released to the probation or parole supervisor.
Individuals serving determinate sentences could be eligible for a parole suitability hearing before their release date should they meet specific criteria determined by the parole board.
Indeterminate sentences are issued as a range, for example, 15 years to life or 25 years to life. The range provides the minimum number of years an offender has to spend imprisoned, but the release date is always open. As the sentence also states, there is a possibility the inmate will spend the rest of his/her life in prison.
Judges issue an indeterminate sentence for violent offenses like second-degree murder. Once an inmate serves the mandatory minimum years, he/she will face the board to determine if they should be released on parole.
Note: Just because the law provides your release on parole after serving the mandatory minimum does not mean the release is automatic. The board can reject your parole request. If the board declines to release you on parole, you will remain in custody until the next time your case is up for a parole review.
Judges also issue life sentences with the possibility of parole. These sentences are also indeterminate. The ruling offers a chance of release on parole, but it is not guaranteed. Further, the sentence lacks a determinate period for which an inmate serves a minimum time in prison. Therefore, in this situation, you must remain incarcerated for a minimum of seven years before qualifying for parole.
2. Work Time Credit or Good Time
Work time credit or good time credit allows inmates who exhibit good conduct while in prison to serve part of their sentences before being released. In the past, the system allowed inmates to earn enough good time credit. In return, they had to serve half their determinate sentence prior to being released on parole. However, the system later changed and required prisoners to do two-thirds of the determinate sentences before they were eligible for parole.
The strain on the prison system due to overcrowding and budget cuts has resulted in the change to allowing prisoners to serve only half their sentences (day-for-day credit) before qualifying for parole. It is also important to note that, while the day-for-day credit system is in place, inmates serving time for violent felonies must do 85% of their prison term before being eligible for parole. Violent felonies include:
Rape, a crime under Penal Code 261
Lewd acts with a child under 14 years, a crime under Penal Code 288 — Also known as child molestation
First-degree burglary, a crime under Penal Code 459
Additionally, two categories of inmates do not qualify to earn good time credits, namely,
Individuals serving sentences for murder under Penal Code 187, and
Inmates previously incarcerated for two or more felonies
Individuals in both categories must remain in prison for the entirety of their sentence before qualifying for parole.
The factors detailed above offer a structured approach to parole determination. However, the law allows the board to determine whether an inmate is ready to reintegrate into the community. Thus, an inmate has to convince the board that he/she has reformed. They do so by answering questions the board poses, including questions about:
The inmate’s behavior in prison
The inmate plans to generate income and support himself/herself after release.
The Changing Parole Laws in California
Parole laws vary on inmates depending on what laws were in place at the time of their conviction. The legal provisions are applied prospectively, meaning a change in parole law will only affect those convicted when the laws are enacted. It is challenging to keep abreast of the changes. Thus, it is best to engage an attorney experienced in parole laws to assist you in receiving the privileges you are entitled to.
The California Department of Corrections oversees the state’s parole system. In 2010, the department launched a program to reduce recidivism and improve parole supervision.
Recidivism is a legal concept referring to an individual’s relapse into criminal behavior after rehabilitation or release from incineration.
The then-governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, signed the program into law in October 2009, aiming to serve four goals:
- Improve supervision of high-risk parolees.
- Reduce recidivism by encouraging inmates to finish rehabilitation programs — The department offers significant-good time credit for completed programs, including the inmate firefighting program.
- Partnering with the community seeking to supervise parolees who commit minor violations — The program, through this goal, aims to send individuals who commit minor offenses to local community centers instead of state prisons.
- Improving supervision of high-risk parolees — High-risk parolees include individuals who committed violent felonies, sex offenders, and those laboriously involved in gang activity. The department achieves this objective by:
- Employing additional parole officials to reduce the caseload
- Implementing new programs to manage lower-risk parolees — One of the programs includes an expanded mental health and drug treatment program that ensures repeat offenders receive treatment instead of incarceration.
Types of Parole Supervision
California’s Department of Corrections currently has six levels of supervision. The degree of oversight can increase or decrease based on the parolee's needs and the community’s safety. The levels are:
- Intensive re-entry — Provides the first supervision level immediately after an inmate returns to the community.
- Regular re-entry — Provides parolees services immediately upon a parolee’s release from prison. Supervisors observe parolees over a shorter time. Some of the services the program offers include housing or employment.
- Specialized caseloads — This program offers intense, concentrated services to high-risk parolees. It also follows that the monitoring is equally intensive.
- Electronic supervision — In other situations, the border could mandate 24-hour monitoring of your activities after release. You will thus receive an ankle monitor that will track your daily movements. Parolees fitted with ankle monitors accept special conditions they have to abide by. Failure to which they risk being taken into custody. Likely candidates for electronic supervision include the following:
- Individuals convicted for profiteering from gang-related activities in violation of Penal Code 186.3
- Individuals registered as sex offenders under Penal Code 290
- Offenders known for absconding — Individuals who have in the past fled the county or California or failed to report when ordered after their prior release.
- Personal and subsistence care — Under this service, parolees receive cash, parental education, transportation, and clothing upon reentry into the community.
- Case management and supervision — Officers from the department of corrections will reduce their monitoring efforts once you successfully demonstrate that you have reintegrated into the community.
A non-revocable parole program is a non-supervised parole program that does not require former inmates to report to a parole agent. If you are under a non-revocable parole program, you will be back in prison if police officers arrest you for a new offense, you face trial, and the courts convict you of the crime.
Though parolees under the non-revocable program do not report to a parole official, they remain subject to warrantless police searches.
Parole agents or parole officers supervise parolees upon their release from prison. Their assignments include:
- Assisting parolees to reintegrate into the community, and
- Protect the public
The state, through the Department of Corrections, hires parole agents. These officers report directly to the Board of Parole Hearings. As part of assisting parolees, the agents prepare recommendations and plans for the parolees before their release. They help the soon-to-be-released inmates arrange for housing, employment, social activities, counseling services, and medical care.
Additionally, parole agents also investigate allegations of parole violations. The findings in the investigations inform the officer’s recommendations to the board. They could either suggest:
- A parolee to remain out on parole, or
- Revocation of parole and reincarceration of the offender
After your release from prison on parole, the length of your monitoring depends on the crime the courts sentenced you for. However, parole terms average about three years. You could also remain under supervision for five to ten years, depending on the prevailing circumstances of your case.
Individuals convicted of murder who are out on parole will remain under supervision for life.
The period is subject to change depending on the prevailing parole laws.
Parole Terms and Conditions
The Board of Parole Hearings, your parole agent, or the courts will impose guidelines or rules you must abide by as a condition for your release. The requirements include general terms and particular guidelines determined on a case-by-case basis.
In most cases, the special conditions are based on your criminal history and the offense for which you were imprisoned.
Some of the general parole conditions include the following. You must:
- Submit to a random search of your residence and your possession, with or without a warrant or reason, by a law enforcement officer or a parole agent
- Follow all instructions from your parole officer, whether verbal or written
- Waive extradition if you are not from California
- Report to your parole officer within a day upon your release from incarceration
- Always provide your work and home address to your parole agent. You must live and work within county limits.
- Provide your new address to your parole officer before moving
- Inform your parole agent within three days of changes to your work situation, for example, location changes or switching to a new job.
- Report to your parole officer whenever you have a warrant out for your arrest or are told to report to a police station
- Obey all laws. Should you break any law, police officers will arrest and incarcerate you even if you do not have new charges for the offense.
- Request permission from the parole agent in case you plan to travel to a location more than 50 miles from your residence. Further, the agent must approve the travel.
- Obtain a travel pass from the parole officer before leaving the county for a period exceeding two days. You must also obtain a travel pass if you plan to leave the state. You must carry the travel pass with you, on your person, at all times.
- Notify the parole officer immediately if you get a ticket or officers arrest you.
- Not have access to or own weapons prohibited under Penal Code 16590 or according to Penal Code 29800
- Not be around firearms or any object resembling a real gun, weapon, or bullet.
- Not have or own a knife with a blade exceeding two inches, except for kitchen knives. However, the kitchen knives must remain in the kitchen — Workplace knives are also exempt. However, you must obtain prior approval from the parole officer. If approved, you can carry the knife to or from work or while working with a note from the parole officer on you at all times.
The notice and conditions of your parole will also state the date you will be released from prison, and the maximum amount of time you will be on Parole. Additionally, it will detail your residence and possessions.
Some of the special conditions you should abide by include but are not limited to the following:
- Registering with the local authorities as a:
- Sex offender, as mandated under Penal Code 290
- An arson offender if you were convicted of arson under Penal Code 451
- Drug offender if you were convicted of violating Health and Safety Code 11350
- Limited access to the internet
- No association with gang members
You must sign the notice and condition form. Failure to which the board will revoke its offer of parole. You will thus remain in prison for an additional six months or more.
When you violate the conditions of your parole, you will be subject to parole violation hearings. You will remain in custody as you await parole violation hearings per Penal Code 3056. These hearings are also referred to as parole revocation hearings. In these legal sessions, the parole board will decide the following:
- Whether a probable cause exists to believe that an individual out on parole violated a new law or a parole condition and
- Whether the parolee’s actions merit parole revocation
Violation of a Parole Condition
If you violate a parole condition, the parole board’s deputy commissioner will lead your parole violation hearing. He/she considers the testimonies of the following individuals:
- Any witness to the violation
- The arresting officer, and
- Your parole officer with regards to the successes and failures of your parole
To counter the aggravating testimonies, your criminal defense attorney will present mitigating factors that justified the violation.
Violation of a Law
You will likely face revocation proceedings if you violate a new law while on parole. Like in a violation of parole terms, you will face the parole revocation hearing, whose members will decide if:
- Probable cause exists to believe you broke a new law, and
- Whether parole revocation is appropriate given the circumstances
The preponderance of the evidence determines probable cause. This means the question to be answered is whether it is more likely than not, given the evidence, that the parolee committed the violation. This burden is less than the burden of proving a case beyond a reasonable doubt, a burden placed on prosecutors in criminal cases.
Winning or Losing in a Parole Violation Hearing
If the hearing determines you violated the terms of your parole without good cause, the board or deputy commissioner will revoke your parole, and you will be reincarcerated for one year.
If the violation hearing was based on you breaking a new law, the deputy commissioner or the board would imprison you for a maximum of one year. The district attorney could choose to pursue further charges based on the violation. This decision will result in a trial, separate from the parole revocation hearing.
Should you win the parole violation hearing, you will remain on parole. The board will further require you to finish the parole term.
Is there an Early Release from Parole?
Yes. An inmate can get an early release from parole if doing so does not risk public safety. An offender, through a criminal defense attorney, can petition the CDCR (California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation) for release after serving six straight months.
Further, you can make this petition if you:
- Are not required to register as a sex offender, or
- Were not imprisoned for a serious felony or violent felony
The parole board must approve the request before the CDCR grants the petition.
Find a Criminal Defense Attorney Near Me
Parole laws vary, and navigating them can be challenging. Enlisting legal assistance from criminal defense attorneys with experience in handling parole will help you navigate the difficulties and improve your chances of securing a release on parole. Contact the Los Angeles Criminal Attorney for assistance at 424-333-0943.