Probation, parole, and supervised release

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(Redirected from Supervised release)

Probation and parole are alternatives to incarceration. Legally they are quite different, although in practice they are similar. Probation is imposed by a judge as an alternative to incarceration. Parole follows a period of incarceration, and who makes the decision to release an inmate on parole, if that possibility exists at all, varies considerably from one state to another.

The federal government abolished parole in 1987 (except for prisoners who began their sentences before that).[1] Now, the offender serves about 87% of his prison term (the other 13% is time off for "good behavior": complying with prison rules), and then is placed on supervised release. Supervised release (called "community control" in Florida) is very similar to parole in the restrictions it places on offenders, but, in contrast with parole, does not automatically end when the time period of the original sentence ends. Parole tales the place of incarceration; supervised release is in addition to parole, or Part of it; supervised release can be much longer thanparole, sometimes life-long.

The PROTECT Act allows for a lifetime term of supervised release for sex offenders,[2] and the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines recommend imposing this maximum term on sex offenders.[3]

  • The offender is assigned to a probation/parole officer.
  • The offender must agree formally to a long list of conditions. These may include:
  • Finding and maintaining gainful employment.
  • Living in approved housing.
  • Complying with all laws (i.e., not getting arrested).
  • Not using illegal drugs. Use of alcohol is sometimes also restricted or forbidden.
  • Taking regular or random drug tests.
  • Not possessing or viewing (legal) pornography.
  • Not using the Internet, or using it only on a device with monitoring software installed.
  • Not using Viagra or similar drugs, even with the offender's spouse.
  • Not dating or having a romantic relationship with anyone of any age, without the nature of the offense being explained to that person first. Typically, this requires a visit to the probation/parole office.
  • Not having contact with the victim(s).
  • Not having contact with minors, except in the presence of an adult who has been approved by the probation officer and informed of the defendant's criminal history.
  • Not working in any professions (e.g. education) that involve contact with children.
  • If the offence involved minors, not being at any place where minors might congregate (schools, parks, libraries).
  • Not having pictures of minors, including family pictures of the offender or his/her siblings.
  • Not possessing children's toys, clothing, or anything else that might entice a child.
  • Having a curfew.
  • Not being allowed to drive.
  • Not to have contact with other criminals (which includes any friends made in prison, and may include members of the offender's family).
  • Wearing an ankle bracelet communicating the offender's location to the supervisor. The offender may be required to pay for the cost of this service.
  • Not leaving the county/state/country without written permission. Permission may entail checking-in with law enforcement at the destination.
  • To attend and participate in sex offender treatment. The offender may be required to pay for the treatment.
  • To participate in mental health treatment, if necessary, and to take all prescribed medications.
  • To allow warrantless, unannounced, searches of the offender's residence, vehicle, etc.
  • To take and pay for polygraph ("lie detector") exams, as requested by the officer.
  • To take penile plethysmograph examinations.

If the offender is found by a court to be in violation of a condition, he may be sent, or returned, to prison, and possibly given a term of supervised release to follow that imprisonment. Defendants have only a limited set of procedural rights in these revocation hearings. These do not include the right to be tried by a jury or to be considered innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt; the lower "preponderance of the evidence" test is used. Hearsay testimony is admissible as long as it is considered reliable.[4]

The list of conditions is so long and onerous that some offenders choose to go to or remain in prison rather than comply with them. If the offender serves the maximum sentence, and is not subject to "supervision", he is released back into the community with no conditions (and no "help"), except for sex offender registration, if required. However, supervision is being imposed far more than before (i,e., on newly-tried cases). It makes the supervisee a second-class citizen, sometimes permanently; one could also say that he continues to live in a prison. Someone with no freedom of movement, no privacy, no access to legal porn, no ability to smoke dope is a second-class citizen.

Another shortcoming is the nature of the probation/parole officer. In theory this is a caring person who helps the offender find employment, housing, and reintegrate successfully into the community. Reality is often far from this theory. Officers may have heavy case loads (which they may resent). The officer may be cynical, burned out, homophobic, unethical, a drug user (with all tht implies), or a bigot. He or she may not conceal his or her distaste for the offense, and treat the offender in a demeaning fashion. Finally, just as with prison staff, there are some officers who are conscientious and fair. Others are neither, and may in fact be themselves committing crimes (such as using drugs) which are prohibited to the offender.