Position Statement

Discretionary Parole
Enacted: Jan 2002

Parole can refer to both a guidelines process and a discretionary decision. Both of these methods of parole have merit. This position statement addresses only discretionary parole. Discretionary parole is a decision to release an offender from incarceration whose sentence has not expired, on condition of sustained lawful behavior that is subject to supervision and monitoring in the community by parole personnel who ensure compliance with the terms of release.


The American Probation and Parole Association supports discretionary parole as an integral and important part of a criminal justice system that is committed to public safety, victim and community restoration and the reintegration of offenders as law-abiding and productive citizens.

Discretionary parole decisions are based on a number of factors that weigh the need for punishment, successful community reintegration and victim and community restoration. These factors include the nature of the crime; the offender’s criminal history, behavior in prison, social background and risk posed to the community; and information from crime victims and affected communities. Discretionary parole decisions enhance public safety by working to keep dangerous offenders incarcerated and that other offenders carefully selected for release receive the necessary structure and assistance to become law-abiding citizens in the community in which they reside.


Parole is rooted in the fundamental belief that offenders can be motivated to make positive changes in their lives. Offenders are more likely to cooperate with correctional authorities if release is conditioned on good behavior, and after release the likelihood of their becoming law abiding is increased when offered assistance. The result is enhanced public safety.

Discretion is inherent at every level of the criminal justice system. Police exercise discretion when determining whom to arrest and charge. The court system uses discretion to decide whom to indict, whom to release pre-trial, whether to go to trial, and what criminal penalties to recommend. Judges use their discretion to determine the appropriate level of punishment given the circumstances of the crime and the offender’s criminal history. They may sentence one offender to probation and another to prison for the same offense.

Parole boards closely examine and consider each offender’s entire record, recognizing that correctional authorities can better manage inmates who have an incentive to follow institutional rules. The possibility of parole also provides inmates with an incentive to participate in programs that build competency skills. Parole boards know that the great majority of offenders sent to prison will eventually be released.

Parole boards are in a unique position to listen to and address the needs and concerns of crime victims and communities. Parole board control over offenders and communication with victims provides the framework for victim assistance and community restoration from the damage of crime.

During periods when there are an inadequate number of correctional beds, parole boards apply a rational process, targeting for release those inmates who pose the least risk to community safety. Parole boards are the only component of the criminal justice system that can weigh all of the factors and release only those offenders who can be best managed under community supervision, thus providing a powerful enhancement to public safety.

The core services offered by parole – investigations, victim advocacy, release planning, community supervision, immediate response to violations, and treatment services – provide optimum public protection. Parole is a powerful partner to both the courts and to victims. Parole boards ensure that the victim’s voice is both heard and heeded, creating a natural and valuable ally for victims and victim advocacy groups.

The American Probation and Parole Association is committed to promoting discretionary parole as an integral and important part of the criminal justice system, designed to enhance the protection of victims and promotion of community safety.