United States, prisoners who have not maxed out are released to parole supervision. Whether they are released through a discretionary or mandatory process, the majority of released prisoners will be subject to some sort of post-prison or parole supervision.4 Parole is the responsibility of the executive branch of government. In most states, it is administered by a board or commission appointed by the governor.

Parole, common in the United States for at least a century, can legally be defined as releasing offenders from a correctional institution, after they have served a portion of their sentence, under the continued custody of the state and under conditions that permit their reincarceration in the event of a violation of the terms of parole (which may otherwise not be a criminal offense). Parole, unlike probation, always occurs after some part of a court-imposed prison term has been completed.

No prisoner has a legal right to parole. Rather, it is a privilege a state grants, through a contractual arrangement with a prisoner, who signs a parole release contract in exchange for the promise to abide by specified conditions. A state authority retains legal control of parolees until they are formally dismissed from parole, which usually lasts between 1 to 3 years.5

Parole agents (or officers) are responsible for ensuring that parolees fulfill the terms of their contracts. Most agents have the legal authority to carry and use firearms and to search places, persons, and property without a warrant and without probable cause (otherwise required by the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution). The search power applies to the household where a parolee is living and the business place where a parolee is working. The ability to arrest, confine, and, in some cases re-imprison a parolee for violating the conditions of the parole agreement gives parole agents a great deal of discretionary authority.

Parole conditions can be roughly classified as general, applicable to all parolees, and tailored, applicable to particular offenders. Standard parole conditions are similar throughout most jurisdictions and usually include not committing crimes, not carrying a weapon, seeking and maintaining employment, reporting changes of address, reporting to one’s parole agent, and paying required victim and court restitution costs.

Tailored conditions are reserved for certain kinds of offenders or crimes.


In indeterminate sentencing systems, a parole board releases inmates to parole supervision on the basis of statutory or administrative determinations of eligibility. Inmates usually must serve some fraction of the minimum or maximum sentence before becoming eligible for parole. In determinate sentencing systems, inmates are conditionally released from prison when they have served their original sentence minus time off for good behavior.


Parole supervision can last much longer in some states: for example, Texas parole supervision is often for 10 to 20 years. A number of recently enacted laws require life-time supervision and registration of sex offenders.

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