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primary means of release from prison


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Learning Outcomes

After reading this chapter, you should be able to

Distinguish parole, mandatory release, and term of supervised release as the primary means of conditional release from prison in the United States.

Discuss milestones in the history and development of discretionary release parole and antecedents to present practices.

Identify and discuss issues related to discretionary release parole decision-making.

Present and discuss common aspects of conditional release.

Describe the scope and nature of reentry as a key concern in a conditional release.

9Parole and Postprison Conditional Release

Jessica Hill/Associated Press



5/12/19, 8)32 PMPrint

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In 2013 approximately one-third of the offenders leaving prison in the United States were released unconditionally. That is, they served their full sentences and were released without having to register for parole or another form of supervision. The remaining two-thirds were released conditionally—that is, released to discretionary or mandatory parole or to another form of supervision (Petersilia & Threatt, 2017).

Those who are released from prison without conditions are free to return to the community and are largely unconstrained by the criminal justice system—as ex-felons, though, they may have certain restrictions, such as not being allowed to carry a firearm. However, as ex-offenders, they may still face de facto restrictions, such as difficulty finding housing, transportation, employment, health care, and other necessities with little or no assistance.

However, those who are released on parole or another form of conditional release supervision are required to report to an agency (in the states, to agents of the state’s Department of Corrections; in the federal system, to agents of the U.S. Probation and Pretrial Services) that monitors them for rules violations and can help them integrate into the community. For many offenders, having someone to turn to for assistance is critical to taking care of themselves and living a law-abiding lifestyle. For members of the community, the offender’s accountability is tied to considerations for public safety and may include aspects of restorative justice, appropriately responding to victims, and other concerns.

This chapter discusses conditional release from prison in the United States. As with probation, many of the essential features of parole and other forms of conditional supervised release have been in place since the latter half of the 19th century. In this chapter, we will distinguish parole from mandatory release and term of supervised release (TSR). We will briefly examine the history and development of parole as the antecedent to current forms of conditional release. We then discuss parole decision-making and examine common features of conditional release supervision. We conclude the chapter by discussing reentry—a key concern for offenders, agency personnel, and community members.