What is Parole?
Parole is the discretionary release of an inmate from confinement after he or she has served a portion of a prison sentence. Parolees remain under parole supervision and control and must adhere to certain parole conditions that, if violated, can be grounds for a return to custody. The decision to release an inmate on parole is made by the seven members of the Massachusetts Parole Board. By law, the board must make a parole release decision based upon the inmate's risk to re-offend and the compatibility of his or her release with the welfare of society.
What are parole conditions?
There are basic conditions that every parolee must adhere to and there are special conditions that the Parole Board imposes based on criminal history, mental health, record of substance abuse, and other risk factors.
Basic conditions include notifying the parole officer in advance of any changes in employment or residence, making an honest effort to find and maintain legitimate employment, and paying a monthly supervision fee.
Special conditions may include drug testing, electronic monitoring, a curfew, mandatory counseling, sex offender counseling, and polygraph exams.
How are parolees supervised?
Highly trained parole officers work to ensure that the parolee enters society with all the community monitoring, support, and services available to prevent his or her return to crime. Parolees are assigned a case plan based on the severity of their offense, particular needs, such as literacy training, and the length of time they will be on parole. Each case is individually planned in this way.
Parole officers regularly visit the parolee, his or her family, and employer to ensure compliance with parole conditions. Although every effort is made to help the parolee overcome addiction, learn new skills, and adjust to society's demands, the parole officer's primary responsibility is to keep the community safe.
How much control is involved in parole supervision?
There are degrees of supervision in the community just as there are degrees of supervision in prison. Certain low-risk, non-violent offenders actually perform better with moderate, rather than maximum supervision. Others require more structure and control. At the highest end of supervision is maximum supervision, which may include electronic monitoring. Electronic monitoring is used both punitively and preventively: punitively for parolees who are not complying with the technical conditions of their parole to find out if parole should be revoked, and preventively for offenders who have just been released on parole and will benefit from a more gradual release into the community.
Does the Parole Board run the prisons?
No. The Massachusetts Parole Board is not responsible for operating the state prison system. The Department of Correction is responsible for running the prison, transferring inmates between prisons, assigning inmates to prison programs including work release centers, computing time to be served, providing medical care, granting visiting and mail privileges, assigning inmate numbers and taking prison disciplinary action. Questions about any of those issues should be directed to the Massachusetts Department of Correction: (508) 422-3300.
Do the members of the Parole Board visit prisons to speak with inmates who are being considered for parole?
Yes, the Board Members travel to both state and county institutions to conduct parole hearings.
Where are parole hearings held?
Hearings are conducted at the inmate's place of incarceration, with the exception of hearings for offenders who are serving life sentences and a few other types of hearings, which are conducted at the Massachusetts Parole Board's central administrative office in Natick. Hearings at Houses of Correction are conducted by one board member, and hearings at state prisons are conducted by 2-3 members.
Are parole hearings open to the public?
No, the only hearings open to the public are those for inmates serving life sentences. Hearings deemed "victim access" are open to the victim(s) and their family members. All other hearings are closed to the public.
What information does the Board review prior to a parole hearing?
The Parole Board reviews a file that may contain: a personal interview with the inmate; a risk and needs assessment; diagnostic prison data; information about the inmate's social background; the circumstances of his or her offense(s); and, in some cases, letters from the community and the victim(s). Information about adult and juvenile criminal history is also included in the file. The Victim Impact Statement is a permanent part of the file, as is any correspondence by or on behalf of the victim. Prison reports of conduct, attitude, or performance incentive credits are also included.
Are all inmates considered for parole?
No. Inmates who have been sentenced to life in prison, as adults, for first-degree murder are not eligible for parole, nor are offenders who have been sentenced to prison without the opportunity for parole consideration (such as inmates serving a sentence of five years to five years and one day). Offenders sentence to less than 60 days are not parole eligible.
When are inmates considered for parole?
An inmate serving a House of Correction sentence or total aggregate sentence of 60 days or more is eligible for parole after serving one-half of the total aggregate term of incarceration, or two years (whichever time period is shorter). Inmates serving one or more minimum mandatory terms which exceed two years will be eligible for parole after serving a period of incarceration equal to the aggregate length of any mandatory minimum terms.
An inmate serving a state sentence is eligible for parole after serving the minimum term of the sentence minus any deductions for good time credits (unless he or she is serving a life sentence).
Are inmates considered for parole more than once?
Inmates serving non-life sentences who are denied parole are granted a review hearing one year later. However, if substantive new information is received by the board, the case may be reconsidered at the board's discretion. Inmates who are serving life sentences and denied parole must, by law, be reconsidered for parole at regular intervals not to exceed five years.
When is electronic monitoring used?
The Parole Board may elect to impose electronic monitoring as a special condition of parole or it may be required by law. A parolee with this requirement must wear an electronic monitoring bracelet with Global Positioning Systems [GPS] technology.
How much of a voice do victims have in the parole process?
The impact of a crime on a victim and the victim's concern about his or her safety are major considerations in each decision rendered by the Parole Board. In addition to denying parole, the Board has other restrictive options that take the victim into account, such as adding special parole conditions that prohibit entry into certain geographic areas, or requiring him to pay restitution to the victim. The board has a Victim Services Unit so that victims and the agencies that represent them are provided with a faster and more personal response to their needs. The Board continually strives for ways to assist victims and be sensitive to their concerns. Please see the information about the Massachusetts Parole Board Victim Services Unit or call the Victim Services Unit toll-free at 1-888-298-6272.
Are victims notified of a parole?
Yes, victims and their families have the right to be notified if the offender is moved to a less secure correctional facility, granted a temporary or permanent release, escapes from custody, becomes eligible for parole, receives a positive vote for or is denied parole. To receive notification of changes in an offender's status from the Parole Board and other state entities, victims, their family members, and witnesses must be registered for Criminal Offender Record Information [CORI].
What are the benefits of parole?
Prison punishes the offender but does not always teach him or her how to deal successfully with society. Most inmates eventually return to society, and usually with fewer employment and social skills than they had when they entered prison.
The first six months after an inmate's release is the most vulnerable period for both the offender and the community. The offender is often pressured to return to his or her old lifestyle. Offenders with substance abuse problems are particularly susceptible to this. The fear of returning to prison is not always strong enough to overcome these immediate pressures. A combination of monitored supervision and practical assistance in obtaining jobs, counseling, and support can place the offender in a supportive, rather than destructive, context and pave the way for his or her new law-abiding life.