In the field of criminal justice, parole is a term used for the early conditional release of a prisoner from a correctional facility while still serving out a sentence. The terms of the prisoner's release may include specific qualifiers to maintain continued parole eligibility. This is called a parole plan. In some cases, these qualifiers include avoiding alcohol or drugs, remaining in contact with a parole officer, or finding suitable employment. Prisoners released under this program are called parolees.
Parole is sometimes confused with probation or commutation of sentence. Parole differs from probation in that it is an early release from prison, while probation is the strict supervision of a convicted criminal who has not been incarcerated. Commutation of sentence means an individual is considered to have served his or her entire sentence but still has a criminal record.
The early release of inmates from a correctional facility was first conceived by Alexander Maconochie in 1840. As the superintendent of the English penal colonies in Australia, Maconochie was looking for a method to help prisoners prepare for their return to a normal society. He developed a three-tiered system that allowed prisoners to earn their supervised freedom. This freedom was conditional upon the parolee's own behavior, and breaking the terms of release resulted in the individual's return to prison.
Depending upon the local laws and customs, early release may be granted for a number of reasons. A parolee may be granted early release from confinement based on good behavior, humanitarian efforts, or other factors that influence the decision of a parole board. These early release programs also come with a varying amount of supervision as some parolees have very few restrictions while other people are required to meet strict guidelines to maintain their release.
In some countries, this program is used to release a prisoner who needs medical attention that cannot be provided within the confines of a prison. This type of release program is sometimes called compassionate release or medical parole. This type of early release program is also used by some countries to effectively banish political prisoners from a country. In these instances, the stipulations of the parolee's release may state that the prisoner is being granted freedom to seek foreign medical treatment on the condition that they will not return to the country. One example of this method is the Chinese government's release of political dissident, Ngawang Chophel, in 2002 from Chengdu prison.