Once incarcerated for conviction of a crime, most state prison systems offer two forms of prison release to most inmates. The prisoner can serve the full term of his or her sentence, as sanctioned by the court that issued the conviction, or he or she can petition the court or state parole board for early release after a certain amount of time has been served satisfactorily.
When prison release occurs because a full sentence has been served, the inmate is free to move on with life as he or she chooses. There is always the hope, or expectation, that the inmate will create a lawful existence once released from prison but there are no restrictions, limitations, or other ties to the conviction that will carry through into the inmates new life entirely outside the state's criminal justice system.
Prison release for the purpose of parole, however, is a controversial and politically charged subject. Many people consider parole an easy way out and many states have abolished it altogether while others limit it as a privilege reserved for certain types of crime only, such as non-violent ones.
Thus far, no fewer than sixteen states have entirely abolished the option of prison release for parole. Other states, including New York, have abolished the possibility of parole for violent criminals convicted of felony offenses.
In a federal criminal conviction for any type crime, violent or not, there is no possibility of parole. The federal government discontinued the possibility of parole in 1984.
According to data analyzed by the US Department of Justice (DOJ), the prison release program for parole has been successful about 45% of the time. This figure means 45% of all prisoners released on parole completed their full sentence, under parole, as mandated by the parole board or court system in the state of conviction.
Of the remaining parolees, 38% of them failed their prison release requirements and were incarcerated a second time, to serve out their remaining sentence, plus any new ones accrued when out on parole.
Another 11% of the inmates in the parole prison release program simply absconded, or went missing. They may be living in hiding, have fled the jurisdiction of parole, or perhaps have died without a parole officer learning of it.
When a state governor allows prison release for a substantial number of inmates, he or she risks the chance of being considered soft on crime by political opponents when running for re-election.