Parole is the permanent or temporary release of a prisoner before completing a jail term on the condition that the prisoner adheres to specific terms and conditions. However, many people confuse parole with probation. Parole only applies after your release from prison. In addition, it only applies if you are serving a jail term for a felony in state prison. On the other hand, probation is a criminal penalty the court imposes on you after a conviction. Therefore, probation could lead to a total elimination or reduction of the period the court requires you to spend in prison. If you need legal guidance on what parole entails, the Riverside Criminal Defense Attorney Law Firm can help.

Parole Explained

You will automatically receive parole upon completing your jail term if you serve a determinate jail term that involves a specific amount of time. For example, if you are serving a possible life sentence like 15 years to life imprisonment, you can apply for parole after completing the determinate part of your jail term. However, the court will conduct a suitability hearing before granting you parole to determine if you are suitable to re-enter society. If you are serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole, you do not qualify for parole.

If the court grants you parole, you will have a parole agent. The agent will monitor you to ensure that you adhere to the terms and conditions of the parole. If you fail to comply with the terms and conditions of parole, you will receive a parole violation or be sent back to custody after a revocation hearing.

The History Of Parole Statute In California

California has had a mandatory parole system for a long time. Unless the public raises safety concerns, the court must grant you parole once you serve your jail term, provided you are eligible. However, before 1977, a jail term had no bearing on parole eligibility. The parole board focused more on the prisoner's criminal rehabilitation than the prisoner's punishment. As a result, the parole board forgot entirely about setting parole dates.

The California Legislature was not pleased with this process and argued that the purpose of incarceration should be punishment. The legislature believed the philosophy would be discharged best by having a prisoner serve a jail term proportional to the crime. He further alleged that the jail term of a prisoner should also be in proportion to the previous prisoners who had committed a similar crime. Once a prisoner has served the jail term, the prisoner is entitled to parole unless the public safety demands further incarceration.

Under the current parole law, this policy is still enforced. However, the date that a prisoner qualifies for parole varies depending on the conviction date and the crime for which the person was convicted.

Inconsistency In California’s Parole Laws

In California, parole statutes keep on changing. When a new law is enacted, it often does not affect the prisoners charged under the previous statute. Instead, the new rule is applied prospectively to future prisoners. Therefore, you must understand your minimum eligible parole date if you are sentenced. For instance, some statutes categorically state that they only cover inmates who were incarcerated or charged before 1983. Other rules cover only inmates who were charged or incarcerated after 1977. Therefore, you need a competent criminal defense attorney who understands parole laws. The attorney will help you receive the parole privileges to which you are entitled.

The California Department of Corrections is currently making efforts to improve parole supervision and reduce the recidivism rate. The recidivism rate is the number of prisoners who receive parole and later commit new offenses. Since the department is responsible for overseeing California’s parole system, it unveiled a new parole program at the end of January 2010. Governor Schwarzenegger signed into law the new program in October 2009. The new program has four goals:

  • Partnering with the society to supervise offenders that commit minor offenses so that they can go to local correction centers instead of prison
  • Reducing recidivism by encouraging prisoners to complete rehabilitation programs by providing sufficient ''good time credit'' for completion of specific programs like prisoner firefighting
  • Improving Supervision of high-risk parolees, high-risk parolees include sex offenders, those who are heavily involved in gang activity, and those who committed violent felonies.
  • Supervising high-risk parolees in two ways. First, implementing new programs for managing lower-risk parolees like expanded drug and mental health treatment. Second, hiring more parole officers to assist in lessening caseloads.

If the above goals succeed, the prison population in California will go down significantly. The parole law is specific to state offenses. The federal system uses a ''supervised release'' program, headed by federal sentencing guidelines.

Factors That Determine Eligibility For Parole

Under California law, you will qualify for parole based on:

  • How good time credit applies to your sentence
  • The type of sentence you received

Good Time Credit

With little exception, you could earn work-time credit or good time credit while in custody. If you are well behaved while in prison, this credit gives you a chance to serve only part of your jail term. In the old parole law, you could earn sufficient good time credit to only do half of your determinate jail term before being paroled. However, in the new parole law, you must serve two-thirds of your determinate jail term before being paroled. Unfortunately, due to prison overcrowding and budget cuts, California has returned to ''day for day'' credit that permits parole after serving only half your jail term.

Prisoners charged with violent felonies have to serve at least 85% of their jail term before they qualify for parole. The following are examples of violent felonies:

  • Rape — Penal Code 261
  • Lewd acts on a minor under 14 — Penal Code 288
  • First-degree burglary — Penal Code 460

The categories of prisoners who do not qualify to earn any good time credit are:

  • Those previously charged and incarcerated for two or more felonies
  • Those convicted under California murder law, Penal Code187

Prisoners who fall in the two classes must serve their whole determinate jail term before being paroled. You will also be on parole if the state believes you are ready to return to society.

Type Of Sentence

A determinate jail term constitutes a finite number of years. For instance, a jail term of ten years is a determinate jail term.

On the other hand, an indeterminate jail term does not have a finite ending time. For instance, a jail term of 15 years to life is an indeterminate jail term. Therefore, if you serve an indeterminate jail term, you do not qualify for parole until at least seven years or until you complete the determinate part of the jail term.

The Conditions And Requirements Of Parole In California

Once you are on parole, you must agree to adhere to certain conditions and requirements. They include:

  • Conditions associated with a specific crime, including restrictions that prohibit you from using the internet, using or being around designated weapons, or relating with gang members
  • Consenting to be searched at any time with or without a search warrant and with or without cause
  • Agreeing to register with local authorities, especially those who are required to register as sex offenders, persons convicted of arson, and those charged with certain California drug offenses
  • Agreeing to live within designated county limits

If you refuse to acknowledge and sign that you will adhere to the parole conditions, the board will revoke your parole offer. In this situation, you will remain in custody for up to six months.

Parole Board Suitability Hearings

If you are a prisoner seeking parole, qualifying for parole does not guarantee that the court will grant you. First, you must appear before the California Board of Parole for Hearing (BPH). BPH constitutes 17 members, all appointed by the California Governor. Therefore, the state political agendas often dictate the decisions that BPH makes. Before you qualify for parole, you must attend several parole hearings. If the board denies you parole, you will not qualify for another parole hearing until three years are over.

You could sometimes wait 15 years before the board grants you another hearing. However, even if the board gives you parole, the California Governor has the authority to reverse the BPH decisions. There are factors reviewed by BPH when determining your eligibility for parole. The factors include:

  • Your prior history of violence
  • The victim or the victim’s family opposition to your release on parole — The victim or the victim's family could even make a statement opposing your parole.
  • The nature of the offense you committed
  • Plans to reintegrate into the community like employment opportunities and housing options
  • Whether you feel remorseful for your actions
  • Your behavior while in prison
  • Whether you took advantage of social, counseling, and educational programs

Parole Supervision In California

The Department of Corrections employs six levels of parole supervision. Supervision intensity could be decreased or increased at any time based on the community safety and the parolee's needs. The levels of Supervision include:

  • Electronic supervision — If necessary, a 24-hour electronic monitoring system has been implemented for enhanced supervision.
  • Intensive re-entry — It offers enhanced supervision upon re-release into the community.
  • Subsistence and personal care offer transition services like cash, transportation services, parenting education, and clothing upon community re-entry.
  • Regular re-entry offers services like housing and employment for parolees upon re-release into the community but for a short time.
  • Case management supervision — Once a prisoner on parole indicates that he/she has successfully reintegrated into society, the parolee will face less Supervision.
  • Specialized Caseloads — It offers concentrated, intense services to high-risk parolees.

According to the ''non-revocable parole program'', some parolees cannot attend revocation hearings. Inmates on non-revocable parole can only go back to custody if they are arrested for new crimes and if they are similarly charged with that crime as any other criminal defendant. Additionally, non-revocable parole program parolees do not report to a parole officer. However, they do remain subject to warrantless searches by law enforcers.

Agents Of Parole In California

Also commonly known as ‘’parole officers’’, parole agents are in charge of all types of parole supervision. They are tasked with two assignments:

  • Helping parolees with their re-entry into the community
  • Protecting the public

Parole officers work directly for the Department of Corrections because they are the state's employees. Parole officers report directly to the Board of Parole Hearings, preparing recommendations and plans for prisoners before their release on parole. They also assist prisoners on parole in social activities, employment, medical care, counseling services, and housing.

If a prisoner on parole faces charges of violating the conditions, the parole officer investigates the accusations. After carrying out the investigations, the officer could advise the parole board to revoke parole and incarcerate the parolee or allow the parolee to remain on parole.

The Length Of Parole Supervision In California

When the prisoner is on parole, the length of Supervision will be based on the offense for which the person is facing charges. However, the average term of parole is about three years, others are five years, and some are ten years.

If the court convicts you of murder, you will be placed on parole for life, although even that parole statute will have exceptions. Additionally, like other issues associated with California parole law, the length of parole supervision is often subject to change.

Rescission Of Parole

The Board of Parole Hearing (BPH) can reverse or rescind its previous parole decision even if it initially granted you parole. The board only needs to provide some evidence for reversing its previous parole decision. The evidence could include your mental history or disciplinary record while in prison. The board cannot consider the public's opinion regarding its decision to release you on parole.

Parole Violations And Revocation

If you violate the conditions and requirements of parole, the board will revoke the parole, and you will be sent back to prison for up to one year. Depending on the parole violation, the district attorney could also decide to file new charges against you, which could lead to another independent jail term or incarceration.

You must understand your rights during a parole violation hearing because the consequences of parole violations can be far-reaching. You have the following rights during a parole violation hearing:

  • Access to a written decision outlining the reason for your the verdict
  • The right to a criminal defense attorney
  • The right to a neutral and fair hearing
  • The right to written notice of accusations
  • The right to review any evidence that used against you
  • The right to speak and present evidence in your favor
  • The right to confront and question witnesses

The Process Of Hearing Parole Revocation

The process of hearing parole revocation consists of preliminary and final hearings. The preliminary hearing occurs to ascertain if the government has probable cause to move to a final hearing. A preliminary hearing must occur within ten days after you have received a notice of the accusations.

The final revocation hearing must happen within 35 days of a parole hold.

A parole hold occurs after the police arrest you for the accusations of parole violation and takes you into custody. The parole hold will remain until your release after a preliminary hearing.

You have the right to a criminal defense attorney regardless of the type of hearing. Hiring a legal defense or providing mitigating evidence could reduce your punishment. However, the government can also provide evidence that favors revoking your parole.

Defenses Against A Parole Revocation Hearing

When your arrest for a parole violation occurs, the parole board will examine the evidence provided by the victims, witnesses, and police officers. The parole officers will also commend your performance during parole at the hearing. You can also seek the services of a criminal defense attorney to effectively present defenses, evidence, and witnesses in your favor.

The process of parole revocation takes place differently from a criminal trial. The evidence rules in a parole revocation process are more lenient than in a criminal trial court. For instance, hearsay proof could be acceptable, including notes or letters, which cannot be admissible in a criminal trial. In addition, the burden of providing evidence at a parole revocation hearing varies from that in a criminal trial. The burden of proof standard is referred to as ''preponderance of the evidence'' in a parole revocation hearing. This means the court can convict you of the charges if the evidence satisfies that you violated parole conditions. 

Criminal trials set a much higher burden on prosecutors because they utilize a ‘’beyond reasonable doubt standard’’. Therefore, the court can easily find you guilty at a parole revocation hearing than at a criminal trial. In addition, there is less protection level for parolees because the process of parole violation is considered part of the original process of punishment.

When you hire an experienced criminal defense attorney, the attorney can employ several defenses to convince the parole board not to revoke your parole. Some of the defenses could include:

Mitigating Evidence

If your attorney effectively presents the evidence of mitigating circumstances, the parole board will not revoke your parole. For instance, if you suffer from drug addiction, your attorney could allege that you need a rehabilitation program instead of returning to prison. Additionally, if a minor violates parole, the attorney could ask the board not to revoke the parole because the minor does not present a danger to society.

False Allegations

Perhaps an angry police officer or your former spouse did not want you released on parole. If you show that the evidence against you is fabricated or inconsistent, a parole board could dismiss your charges.

Due Process Violation

The board could dismiss the charges against you if your constitutional rights were violated. For example, perhaps you did not receive a written notice of your accusations, or your hearing did not occur within the legal deadline. As a result, a due process violation could have happened, and the charges against you could have been dropped.


Often, you could find yourself violating parole because of hanging out with your friends who committed an offense even if they were not involved in any unlawful behavior. Another person could be attempting to fix you for their illegal acts.

Mistaken Identity

In California, many people face criminal charges, despite being innocent because of mistaken identity. It is common for you to be falsely accused of parole violation because another culprit committed an offense nearby or fit a similar description. Some factors could also hinder an eyewitness from identifying the actual offender. These factors include:

  • Improper suggestions by police
  • The stress of the encounter
  • Passage of time

Coerced Confession

You could have confessed to parole violation because of the overbearing behavior of the police. You should never face the repercussions of a crime you did not commit. The law enforcers could also make you believe you will not go to custody once you confess to an offense.

Your attorney could fight your charges by alleging that you would not have confessed to parole violation if it were not for the outrageous police behavior. If you feel the police coerced you into confessing to a parole violation, your attorney could also help you fight your charges.

Find A Criminal Defense Attorney Near Me

If you or a loved one requires some help understanding paroles or is to attend a parole hearing, you need to consult a criminal defense attorney to prepare you for the hearing. Riverside Criminal Defense Attorney Law Firm will conscientiously prepare you on how to answer the parole board's questions. In addition, we will train you on how to convince the board that you pose no threat to the community upon release. In case of a parole violation, we will investigate the facts of the violation and present all the necessary legal defenses. We will also present mitigating factors on your behalf to avoid your return to prison. Contact us at 951-946-6366 and talk to one of our attorneys.