How Officials Determine Parole Eligibility

By Deanne Katz, Esq. on February 28, 2013 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Unless a sentence specifies that parole is not an option, at some point inmates become eligible to at least apply for parole.

Probation comes after the sentence is completed, but parole allows a person to serve the remainder of a sentence outside the prison. That kind of freedom comes with a lot of requirements and it's not available to everyone.

Just like criminal laws, the laws about parole vary by state. But while the specifics may change, the broad requirements are generally the same.

You Have to Serve Your Time

For the vast majority of crimes, people who are convicted must serve at least one-third of the sentence behind bars.

In some circumstances, state or federal law, depending on the jurisdiction, will mandate how many years must pass before an inmate is parole eligible.

What about life imprisonment? There’s no way to determine when a third of that sentence has passed. In most cases, those inmates are parole eligible after 25 years behind bars.

There’s Still a Process

Having served one-third of the sentence, an inmate doesn’t automatically get reviewed for parole. He has to file an application to get the process started.

If the parole board accepts the application, a hearing will be scheduled. That’s the inmate’s opportunity to prove that he’s been rehabilitated and is no longer a danger to society.

It’s not a formal court hearing with lawyers and a trial. But there is still an opportunity to present a case for parole.

What Happened Matters

When determining parole eligibility, the board wants to ensure that releasing an inmate early won’t pose a threat to society. That means determining the likelihood that the person will reoffend.

Obviously having a prior record is a bad sign. But the seriousness of the crime, the physical danger it caused, and the inmates behavior while incarcerated also matter.

There are no guarantees about who will reoffend and who has actually been reformed. But when it comes to parole, the safety of others is the critical factor.

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