We are talking about parole in North Carolina. We said in our last post that the process here is different from what we see in the movies. A friend asked what we were talking about.
First, there were the movies in the ’30s and ’40s that had some James Cagney-like tough guy sent “up the river” for 10 years; soon after the judge hands down the sentence, the tough guy’s friend, usually a priest or a green grocer, says, “Jake, if you just do what they say and behave yourself, you can be out in five!”
More people may be familiar with “The Shawshank Redemption” and its scenes between Morgan Freeman’s character and the parole board. They ask if he has been rehabilitated, he says yes, they deny parole. He finally makes an eloquent speech to the board and tells them to stamp the little paper so he can go about his day (or something to that effect), and his parole is granted.
It doesn’t work that way under North Carolina’s Structured Sentencing Act. It is not the job of the Post-Release Supervision and Parole Commission to interview offenders or to hold hearings at which the victim or the victim’s family can argue against the offender’s release. Being a parole commissioner is more of a desk job these days.
Who is eligible for parole? An offender must serve 100 percent of his minimum sentence to be eligible for structured sentencing’s version of parole. But it’s not really that easy.
As we have said in past posts, minimum and maximum sentences for offenders are based on the severity of the crime and the offender’s prior criminal record. Under the Fair Sentencing Act, offenders could earn credits for Good Time and Gained Time (see our last post) that would take days off the sentence. It was hard to predict how long an offender would be in jail.
There are credits, too, under structured sentencing. Working or participating in a prison program can earn an offender credits that will reduce the maximum sentence. It is possible for an offender to earn enough credits to make the maximum zero, to whittle down the additional months until the maximum is equal to the minimum. Credits cannot reduce the minimum.
If an offender does not work or participate in prison programs, he or she may remain in prison until the maximum sentence expires.
We’ll talk about the commission’s role in our next post.
The North Carolina Sentencing and Policy Advisory Commission, “A Citizen’s Guide to Structured Sentencing,” revised 2012
North Carolina Post-Release Supervision and Parole Commission website, accessed Sept. 12, 2014