What is Parole?

Larry Ray Palmer

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.

Convicts are released from prison early when they are paroled.
Convicts are released from prison early when they are paroled.

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.

Someone displaying good behavior while in prison might receive parole.
Someone displaying good behavior while in prison might receive parole.

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.

Offenders who violate the terms of their parole face serious consequences.
Offenders who violate the terms of their parole face serious consequences.

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.

Being employed may be a requirement of parole.
Being employed may be a requirement of parole.

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.

Parolees may need to undergo counseling as a condition of their release.
Parolees may need to undergo counseling as a condition of their release.

You might also Like

Readers Also Love

Discussion Comments


@matthewc23 - I think that sometimes the courts decide that yes someone deserves this long a sentence, but they can be released early if they prove that they are rehabilitated.

This is the whole reason for parole, to reward a prisoner that has cured themself. If anything parole is used as a tool to prove that the system of punishing people who commit crime by removing them from society works and that is many instances the prisoner that receives parole has proved that they could re-enter society and they no longer need to be punished.

Some people do not see the point in administering a sentence if it is not carried out but it is a re-assurance that the system works and those who worry about someone being released early just have to realize that if someone is not ready to re-enter society, then they will not be paroled and will serve out their full sentence.


I think that some people have a negative perception of how parole is carried out due to various reasons. I have always noticed that people that are unsatisfied with a sentence administered to someone point out that their sentence will not matter at all because they will be out a lot sooner due to parole.

Although the parole system has a lot of checkpoints to make sure that mistakes are not made there are some legitimate questions that come about in regards to how long someone is sentenced and whether letting them out significantly early due to parole fits the crime.


@letshearit - I think that the parole system works really well. We can't just toss people in prison forever because there simply isn't enough room to accommodate all of the criminals that we have in our society. I agree that sentences should be harsher for murders and those that have violated others, but I think that when considering harsher sentences, we have to start looking at the death penalty.

There has always been a lot of controversy over whether parole or not is a good idea, and whether good behavior in prison is really an ideal indicator of whether or not a person is ready to return to society. I think that only our judges and law enforcement can answer that.


There are so many parole violations that I wonder if the whole system should undergo a bit of an overhaul. I think that our justice system needs to be a lot more strict, and that if you have committed a serious crime, such as murder or sexual assault for example, that you're stuck in prison, or under house arrest for life.

I don't understand why we give people so many chances to get things right, when most of society has enough of a moral conscious and fear of the system to not do things that are against the law. Does anyone think that the parole system as it is, works well?

Post your comments
Forgot password?