In our last two posts we talked about parole eligibility under the Fair Sentencing Act and the Structured Sentencing Act. As we have said, though, parole under structured sentencing is much different. It is not the old early release process: Offenders must serve the minimum sentence. That means the parole board — or, in North Carolina, the Post-Release Supervision and Parole Commission — has different responsibilities based on the date of the offense.
So, an offender becomes eligible for parole — what’s next? Again, it depends on whether the offender was sentenced before or after structured sentencing went into effect.
Pre-structured sentencing parole — crimes committed before Oct. 1, 1994: The commission has a say in whether an offender is released as soon as he or she becomes eligible. There are no hearings, remember, but each of the four commissioners reviews each eligible offender’s file.
The file includes information about the circumstances of the crime (as determined by the court) and information about the victim. All information about the offender’s conduct in prison is there, too, including participation in programs and general conduct while incarcerated. The record also contains input from victims and any other interested parties.
Each commissioner votes to deny parole or to investigate further. The majority rules.
Denied: The offender’s file set aside, and the process is repeated annually (if the crime is not murder).
Investigation: More information is added to the file to help with the decision. For example, the offender may be asked about his or her plans following release, or police and other law enforcement officials may be asked for input. Victims or their families may also have a say. When the investigation is complete, the commission reviews the file again and votes to deny or to approve.
What about parole under structured sentencing? We’ll get into that in our next post.
North Carolina Post-Release Supervision and Parole Commission website, accessed Sept. 12, 2014
The North Carolina Sentencing and Policy Advisory Commission, “A Citizen’s Guide to Structured Sentencing,” revised 2012