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The U.S. Federal Parole System Essay

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Updated: Feb 17th, 2019

Criminal offenders have existed in the society for as long as the history of mankind is concerned. Different measures have been put in place to ensure that criminals are brought to book and prosecuted accordingly. In the United States, numerous criminal justice systems have made attempts to ensure that there is social order at all times. However, some of these systems have received criticisms from a cross-section of the society as far as their effectiveness is concerned (Schmalleger, 2005).

The parole system is one of the criminal justice approaches with the longest history in some countries, particularly the United States. It refers to supervised conditional release of an inmate from prison which is granted way before the elapse of a given prisoner’s court sentence (Hoffman, 2004). This system, however, varies in application from one state to another in America. For instance, in some states, any person convicted of serious crime like murder or rape is not considered for parole.

Since parole is granted under strict terms and conditions, the slightest violations result in its revocation and subsequent re-incarceration. The essay discusses the general history and purpose of the parole system in the United States. The negative as well as positive effects of this system on the society are also discussed. Moreover, the various functions of local, state and federal parole agencies are highlighted.

The federal parole system is emphasized in this essay. Although law enforcement agencies work hard to keep criminals off the streets, while the prisons house them, it is the responsibility of the parole agencies to ensure that the offenders stay out of trouble and get the help they need by providing community resources to help them socially reintegrate into the society after being released.

Persons convicted of any given crime receive appropriate sentence from the criminal justice system applicable in that jurisdiction. Imprisonment for a specified period of time has been one of the ways of rehabilitating convicts (Parent, 1994).

The length of time may range from a few months to life imprisonment. However, as defined above, parole creates an opportunity for the inmates to be released on specified terms and conditions before they complete their sentence in jail. Usually, the parolee is under regular supervision and is still under the initial sentence.

The activities of the parolee are restricted by an appointed officer, particularly when it comes to place of residence, associates, and day to day occupation with an aim of curbing a relapse into criminal activities. The procedure of granting parole is regulated by the statute established in the authorities of the United States (Dolgoff & Fieldstein, 2008). In some states, persons serving indeterminate life sentence may be eligible for parole upon petition for release.

In criminal law, parole is not designed to shorten the sentence of a convict but to give the parolee an opportunity to readjust and accelerate the rehabilitation process especially for first time offenders (Parent, 1994). The various states have statutes which create parole boards with the responsibility of evaluating and if necessary, releasing the prisoners from jail.

These boards conduct parole hearings as well as the hearings for the revocation of paroles. Some states do not allow the persons on parole to be represented during such hearings. In the United States, the parole system was first officially established and used in New York in 1876. By the turn of the 20th century, many states had adopted the parole system. It was in 1910 that the U.S. Congress established the Parole Commission charged with the responsibility of granting parole (Rush, 2003).

There are a number of reasons why parole is used in the United States. In comparison, it is much cheaper to supervise a person on parole than to incarcerate a convict. While a person is on parole, he or she has an opportunity to offer services to the community and hence contribute to the general development.

On the other hand, the society is assured of security because the parolee is under regular supervision to prevent relapse into crime. Crime is minimized due to the fact that a person on parole may be re-incarcerated in case of the slightest violation of terms and conditions (Hoffman, 2004). It has been established that parole serves as one of the very effective ways of rehabilitating convicts.

Parolees are constantly supervised and guided as they readjust into the society. Parole also helps in controlling the population of local, state and federal prisons. Usually, parole is granted upon meeting the set standards of good behavior while in prison. As much as parole laws differ from one state to another, there are a number of practices that are shared among the states (Jacobson, 2005). In most states, the governor has the responsibility of appointing a parole board.

The board is charged with the duties of investigating the case histories of prisoners eligible for parole, analyze the records, conduct parole hearings, and grant parole to successful candidates and to design the conditions for parole. Moreover, they can issue warrants of arrests for persons who may violate parole conditions, conduct parole revocation hearings as well as give the final discharge to persons on parole after a specified period of time (Hoffman, 2004).

Some states require that the parolees pay a small fee every month which will be used to compensate the costs of regular supervision by selected officers from the parole commission. For instance, some states charge up to $10 monthly and a maximum of $2,500 annually for convicts on parole for a felony (Jacobson, 2005). If the parolee fails to pay the specified fee, the parole board may initiate the process of revoking the parole especially if the failure to pay cannot be justified.

The responsibility of determining whether one is eligible for parole or not rests with the parole board. The best interests of the affected society are considered when granting parole. States which practice the parole system emphasize the fact that parole is not aimed at reducing the sentences or granting pardon/amnesty to offenders (Del Carmen, 2006). It should also not be confused with probation which is usually given instead of imprisonment.

In order to regulate the granting of parole, most states checks the jurisdiction of the parole board. The statutes in these states are designed in such a way that there is a specific period of imprisonment that a person must complete before being considered for parole (Schmalleger, 2005). The minimum period of time is calculated as a fraction of the total sentence awarded in the court ruling which largely depend on the nature of crime committed.

In Arkansas, for instance, a person convicted of serious crime like murder, rape, kidnapping, heightened robbery, and posing serious security concerns is not considered for parole until he or she has served 70% of the original sentence (Rush, 2003). Prisoners are eligible for parole after they serve a minimum of one-third of their prison sentence when it comes to lesser crimes.

In the United States, most states have adopted the state parole system as a means of checking overcrowding in state prisons. However, the state and federal parole systems have been under intensified criticisms especially in the 1970s. During this time, movements emerged which pushed for the disbandment of the system in many states. They viewed the parole system as a way of violating “truth in sentencing.” The critics demanded that inmates should be left to serve their full sentence as ruled by the courts.

Many states including Virginia (1995) have abolished the parole system (Jackson, 2001). In fact, many states currently allow sentences of determinate life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. Death penalty for serious crimes like murder and rape is also practiced. Prisoners who receive neither of the sentences are eligible for parole upon filing a petition for release.

Another negative effect of parole as cited by the critics is that it releases notorious criminals back into the society hence posing serious security concerns. Political regimes with the highest incidences of parole are regarded as being ‘soft on crime’ and fueling impunity. When it comes to sentencing options, Alaska is the only state which does not permit capital punishment and life imprisonment without the likelihood of parole (Rush, 2003).

Where parole is applicable, a prisoner who demonstrates good behavior may be eligible for parole only after the elapse of a minimum of 85% of the prison sentence handed down by the court (Schmalleger, 2005). However, good conduct in prison may not in anyway guarantee that a prisoner be paroled. A comprehensive evaluation of the inmate must be conducted in order to determine eligibility for parole.

Some of the factors that play a central role include; the availability of reliable place of residence as well as sustainable and gainful job opportunity for the parolee. The parole board should be convinced that the prisoner will be able to demonstrate self-support upon being paroled (Schmalleger, 2005). For old inmates who wish to be paroled, there must be clear social security for them before parole is granted. These conditions demonstrate the great local and state differences when it comes to parole.

For a long period of time in the history of the United States, parole has remained to be one of the most controversial political concerns. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, a minimum of 16 states have already eliminated the parole system (Hoffman, 2004). This has left the federal parole system on the spotlight. There were two major reasons that led to the introduction of parole in the federal system.

Firstly, it was the power exercised by the president in commuting prison sentences and secondly, the practice of reducing the prison sentence by the prison officials due to good conduct by the inmates. The reduction of prison sentences for federal criminals can be traced to 1867 when the first legislation was enacted (Dolgoff & Fieldstein, 2008). Parole of federal convicts started after coming into force of the June 25, 1910 legislation (Dolgoff & Fieldstein, 2008).

In 1984, the federal government was forced to bring to an end parole for prisoners convicted for any felony at the federal level (Hoffman, 2004). The parole board was responsible for the granting of parole to prisoners. The key members of the board were the warden of the institution, the physician, and the Superintendent of Prisons of the Department of Justice in Washington, D. C.

It was until 1930 when legislation was passed to establish a single Board of Parole in Washington, D. C. whose members were appointed by the Attorney General. Changes were made to the constitution and roles of the board depending on the circumstances. In 1948, the AG increased the members of Board of Parole to five following an increase in prison population during post WWII (Hoffman, 2004).

Towards the end of 1950, the membership of the board was increased to eight and the president became the appointing authority with approval from the senate (Dolgoff & Fieldstein, 2008). The Parole Board received major changes in 1972 when efforts to reorganize the parole process began.

The Parole Commission and Reorganization Act became effective in May 1976. It was during this time that the Parole Board was renamed the United States Parole Commission. This independent agency spread to five regions. The introduction of the Comprehensive Crime Control Act of 1984 brought determinate sentencing guidelines which ended up regulating the eligibility for parole at the federal level (Hoffman, 2004).

These strict guidelines were a great threat to the effectiveness of the parole system and efforts were made by the Congress to extend the life of the Parole Commission to November 1, 2002. The Federal Parole Commission saw its responsibilities extended to cover a wider range of cases and jurisdiction. The most recent review of the Parole Commission saw its life extended to November 1, 2005 (Bogue, Nandi & Jongsma, 2003).

From the above discussion, it is evident that parole agencies have a great role to play when it comes to protecting the society as well as the prisoners. Law enforcement agencies, on the other hand, seek to reduce the rates of crime in the society by arresting and ensuring the incarceration of convicts.

The imprisonment of all categories of criminals, however, has resulted in the overcrowding of federal and state prisons (Bogue et al., 2003). The introduction of harsh sentencing guidelines as well as mandatory sentencing has been a threat to the federal parole system.

First time non-violent offenders and mothers with young children have ended up in prisons with no eligibility for parole. Investigations into most of these offenders indicate that they are not a threat to public security and hence should not be imprisoned for the full term. However, federal parole was abolished in the 1980s following the enactment of stringent sentencing guidelines. This has seen the ineligibility of federal prisoners for parole except the state prisoners where parole is still applicable.

It has been established that the cost of housing a single prisoner is worth over $29,000 annually (Hoffman, 2004). Most of the offenders are sentenced for long terms of up to 24 years even for lesser offences. This has become a burden on the tax payers and federal leaders are reluctant in reviving the federal parole system.

The reintroduction of parole could mean saving billions of tax payers’ dollars which can then be channeled to other developmental programs. Schools, colleges, training services for jobs, provision of good healthcare, better housing, social security benefits, and grants for businesses are some of the areas which can be enhanced instead of spending billions of dollars on prisoners and constructing prisons (Dolgoff & Fieldstein, 2008).

The essay has discussed the introduction of parole and its purposes in the United States. The positive impacts of parole like saving tax payers’ money have been elaborated. Some of the negative effects of parole as advanced by critics have also been highlighted. It has emerged from the essay that as much as state parole system can still be found in some states, federal parole system is at the brink of extinction and effort must be made to revive it.

It is evident, therefore, that although the law enforcers work hard to reduce crime incidences in the society, while the prisons house the criminals, it is the duty of the various parole agencies to ensure that the offenders stay out of exaggerated trouble and obtain help they need by providing community resources to help them socially readjust into the society after being released.


Bogue, B. M., Nandi, A. & Jongsma, A. E. (2003). The federal parole system: analysis. John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Del Carmen, R. V. (2006). Understating criminal procedure: law and practice. Cengage Learning

Dolgoff, R. & Fieldstein, D. (2008). Understanding social welfare (8th ed.). Pearson Education

Hoffman, P. B. (2004). History of the Federal Parole. Wm. S. Hein Plc.

Jackson, M. B. (2001). Doing good after prison: a guide for the parolee. Joint FX Press

Jacobson, M. (2005). Regulating prisons: managing crime and reducing massive imprisonment. NYU Press

Parent, D. G. (1994). Responding to violations of parole: an introduction. DIANE Plc.

Rush, J. P. (2003). Understanding state parole system (7th ed.). Peterson’s

Schmalleger, F. (2005). Criminal justice and parole: an introduction (6th ed.). Prentice Hall

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