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Parole can have different meanings depending on the context. All of the meanings derive from the French parole, meaning "(spoken) word". The term became associated with the release of prisoners based on prisoners giving their word of honor to abide by certain restrictions.


Criminal justice

In criminal justice systems, parole is the supervised release of a prisoner before the completion of their sentence. This differs from amnesty or commutation of sentence in that parolees are still considered to be serving their sentences, and may be returned to prison if they show poor adjustment to society.

The exact nature of parole varies from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. In the United States, courts may specify in a sentence how much time must be served before a prisoner is eligible for parole. This is often done by specifying an indeterminate sentence of, say, "15 to 25 years," or "15 years to life." The latter type is known as an indeterminate life sentence; in contrast, a sentence of "life without the possibility of parole" is known as a determinate life sentence.

In most states, mere good conduct while incarcerated in and of itself does not necessarily guarantee that an inmate will be paroled; other factors may enter into the decision to grant or deny parole, most commonly the establishment of a permanent residence and immediate, gainful employment or some other clearly visible means of self-support upon release (such as Social Security if the prisoner is old enough to qualify). Many states now permit sentences of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole (such as for murder), and any prisoner not sentenced to either this or the death penalty will eventually have the right to petition for release (one state – Alaska – maintains neither the death penalty nor life imprisonment without parole as sentencing options).

Before being granted the privilege of parole, the inmate must first agree to abide by the conditions of parole set by his parole authority. These conditions ususally require the parolee to meet regularly with his or her parole officer or community corrections agent, who assesses the behavior and adjustment of the parolee and determines whether the parolee is violating any of his or her terms of release (typically these include being at home during certain hours, maintaining steady employment, not absconding, refraining from illicit drug use and sometimes, abstaining from alcohol). In some cases, a parolee may be discharged from parole before the time called for in the original sentence if it is determined that the parole restrictions are no longer necessary for the protection of society (this most frequently occurs when elderly parolees are involved).

Parole is a controversial political topic in the United States; during elections, politicians whose administrations parole any large number of prisoners (or, perhaps, one notorious criminal) are typically attacked by their opponents as being "soft on crime". The US Department of Justice (DOJ) stated in 2002 that about 45% of parolees completed their sentences successfully, while 41% were returned to prison, and 9% absconded. These statistics, the DOJ says, are relatively unchanged since 1995; even so, some states (including New York) have abolished parole altogether for violent felons, and the federal government has abolished it for all offenders convicted of a federal crime in 1984, whether the crime was violent or not. Despite the decline in jurisdictions with a functioning parole system, the average annual growth of parolees was an increase of about 1.5% per year between 1995 and 2002.

A variant of parole is known as "time off for good behavior," or, colloquially, "good time." Unlike the traditional form of parole – which may be granted or denied at the discretion of a parole board – time off for good behavior is automatic absent a certain number (or gravity) of infractions committed by a convict while incarcerated (in most jurisdictions the released inmate is placed under the supervision of a parole officer for a certain amount of time after being so released). In some cases "good time" can reduce the maximum sentence by as much as one-third; it is usually not made available to inmates serving life sentences, as there is no release date that can be moved up.

In China, prisoners are often granted medical parole, which releases them on the grounds that they must receive medical treatment which cannot be provided for in prison. Often, the medical condition is not serious, and medical parole is used as an excuse to release a prisoner, particularly a political dissident, without the government having to admit that the sentence was unjust.


Military law

In military law, a prisoner of war may be released from confinement, or paroled upon promising certain conditions, such as remaining in a specified place or not attempting to escape or not taking up arms again in the current hostilities.

Service members who commit crimes while in the U.S. military may be subject to Court Martial proceedings under the Uniform Code of Military Justice(UCMJ). If adjudicated guilty, the may be sent to Federal or Military Prisons and upon release may be supervised by U.S./Federal Probation Officers.

U.S. immigration

In U.S. immigration law, the term parole has three different meanings.

A person who does not meet the technical requirements for a visa may be allowed to enter the U.S. for humanitarian purposes. Persons who are allowed to enter the U.S. in this manner are known as parolees.

Another use related to immigration is advanced parole, in which a person who already legally resides in the U.S. needs to leave temporarily and return without a visa. This typically occurs when a person's application for a green card (permanent residency) is in process and the person must leave the U.S. for emergency or business reasons. In the wake of September 11, 2001, there has been greater scrutiny of applications for parole and advanced parole. [1]

The term is also used to denote scenarios in which the federal government orders the release of an alien inmate incarcerated in a state prison before that inmate's sentence has been completed, with the stipulation that the inmate be immediately deported, and never permitted to return to the United States. The most celebrated example of this form of parole was that of Lucky Luciano, who was being "rewarded" for cooperating with the war effort during World War II; in most cases where such parole is resorted to, however, the federal government has deemed that the need for the immediate deportation of the inmate outweighs the state's interest in meting out punishment for the crime the inmate committed.


Parole (French, meaning "speech") is also a linguistic term used by Ferdinand de Saussure which, as opposed to langue, describes language in use rather than language as a system.

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