Understanding The Meaning of “Parole Eligible”

I have met many, many inmates who, while facing criminal charges, accepted a plea agreement on the advice of their attorneys, rather than fight the charges against them. Often, this is very prudent advice, especially where the agreed upon length of the sentence is for a period of years that is reasonable, or even generous, under the circumstances. However, all too often, people are deceived into believing that they will be back home on parole very quickly.  When such promises are made to induce a person to plead guilty and end the fight, the accused (and his/her family) later discover a cruel reality; being eligible for parole has absolutely nothing to do with whether one actually makes parole.

The words “Parole Eligible” or “Eligible for Parole” should never be seen as the date that a person is going to be released on parole.  In fact, it’s far more complicated than what a person accused of a crime is told when deciding whether to accept a plea agreement.

Although there are many, many reasons one might not make parole, I see three general themes that tend to account for the reason(s) why well over half of the people who are initially eligible for parole do not tend to make it on their first try.

First, there are the cases where the offender has been in trouble outside of prison many times over a period of many years, and therefore may be seen to have squandered past opportunities and breaks that were bestowed upon them.

The second major category of inmates who are denied parole on their first opportunity are those who have had either serious major disciplinary cases in prison within the previous few years, or have simply had too many minor cases in the recent past.  These people are seen by the Board as either not being worthy of the parole privilege because, as the theory goes, if a person breaks the rules and gets in trouble in prison, the liklihood is even higher that this person will break rules and get in trouble in the free world.

Another category of offender who will generally not make parole on the initial eligibility date are those people for whom the offense(s) are particularly serious, and may also involve loss of life or serious injuries, and/or victim protests.

I hope this informs you a little better about why the prosecutors or defense lawyers at the courthouse really have no idea at all whether a specific inmate will make parole, or even when this might take place.

None of the three above general scenarios should be taken as being an absolute bar to making parole. However, it is definitely a more difficult path if one or more of the scenarios above is present.

I believe that the inmate-attorney interview is the best place and time for me to start thinking of all the details that might sway the voters to parole any given client.  Therefore, while gathering information, I am often looking for clues and insights that might make any given client a stronger candidate for parole, regardless of whether it is the first parole review date, or any date thereafter.

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