Parole is an early release prior to the expiration of a sentence of incarceration. Parole is a privilege not a right. Parole is earned by clear conduct and addressing the issues that got them sent to prison. The only right an offender has is to be released upon completion of the sentence that was handed down by the court. Every offender sentenced to the Department of Corrections or to the Montana State Prisons is given a parole eligibility date. This date, by statute, is one fourth of the sentence less jail credit. This date is calculated by the prison records department. The information is given to the parole board as well as the offender. When an offender, who is in secure custody, is two months away from their parole eligible date (1/4 of their sentence), the Prison Records department notifies the Parole Board. Prison or facility staff will conduct a pre-parole school for offenders. At this time, the parole hearing process is explained to the offenders. Offenders will fill out a parole application and can ask any questions that they might have regarding the parole process. At this class, offenders are told that they can have family or witnesses come to their hearings but that the family must contact the Board thirty (30) working days in advance with their social security number and birth dates. This information is needed to send to the prisons so that visitors/witnesses can be approved to come into a facility. Any written correspondence must be sent to the counselor at the facility the offender is housed, which will be submitted to the Board along with the offender's parole report. The waiver process is also explained to offenders. Offenders can waive their initial parole hearing if they feel it is in their best interest. Offenders should appear before the Board in their best light. They should have clear conduct and taken or completed some programming that address their issues before they go in front of the parole board. A waiver can be up to six months in length, but if the offender waives, then decides they are ready to see the Board before the six months is up, they can write and ask to be put on the Board agenda. In addition, offenders are told that should be granted a parole, it usually takes between four to six weeks before they can actually leave the institution. It is imperative that the inmate develop a sound plan and that it has been verified before they see the Board if at all possible. If the plan changes or is not approved, it will slow down the release process. For a list of procedure and criteria that will be considered by the Board, please refer to our administrative rules below:
20.25.401 HEARING PROCEDURE
- An eligible offender may apply and come before a board hearing panel or an out of state releasing authority for nonmedical parole consideration within two months of time fixed by law as calculated by the prison records department. During the parole hearing the hearing panel will consider all pertinent information regarding each eligible offender including:
- the circumstances of the offender's current offense and any other offenses the offender has committed;
- the offender's social history and criminal record;
- the offender's prison record including disciplinary conduct, work history, treatment programs, classification and placement, and adjustment to prison; and
- reports of any physical, psychological, and mental health evaluations done on the offender.
- The presiding hearing panel member shall conduct hearings informally and shall have discretion to allow or not allow any proposed testimony. Board staff shall make a record of all hearings.
- Interested persons who wish to appear before the hearing panel must:
- notify board staff not less than ten working days prior to the regularly scheduled hearing; and
- inform the board staff of the reason they wish to appear before the hearing panel and the relationship of the person to the offender at whose hearing the person intends to appear.
- Interested persons may submit written comments about an offender's possible parole to board staff at any time before the hearing. The hearing panel will give interested persons' comments due consideration at the offender's hearing.
- A victim may present a statement concerning:
- the effects of the crime on the victim;
- the circumstances surrounding the crime; and
- the victim's opinion regarding whether the hearing panel should grant the offender parole.
- At the presiding hearing panel member's discretion, the victim's statement and testimony will be kept confidential if the presiding member finds the victim's privacy interest outweighs the public's right to know.
- The hearing panel shall consider the victim's statement along with the other information presented in determining whether to grant parole.
- The presiding hearing panel member may close a hearing to hear or consider confidential information.
- Information is confidential when the presiding member finds a person's privacy interest outweighs the public's right to know.
- When the hearing panel has finished hearing or discussing the confidential information, it shall reopen the meeting and complete the hearing in public.
- When the hearing panel denies an offender parole, it must give the offender written notification of the decision and include reason(s) for the decision and when the offender may reapply for parole consideration.
- A hearing panel will consider an eligible offender for parole release even if the offender does not submit an application for parole. A hearing panel will render a decision based on the written record and on the fact that the offender did not apply for parole.
- A hearing panel may conduct hearings via two-way interactive video teleconferencing and may conduct administrative reviews by means of telephone conference.
- Board hearings are open to the public; however, all persons attending hearings that take place in a secure facility must gain approval to enter the facility from the facility's chief of security or designee as required by the facility's policy. While at the facility, persons must comply with the facility's policies including applicable security policies. The facility may exclude or escort from the facility any person who fails to gain approval to enter the facility or fails to comply with the facility's policies. At the discretion of the hearing panel additional witnesses may be heard outside of the secure facility.
- Offenders who appear for parole hearings may have a representative, including an attorney, present with them.
- At the conclusion of the hearing, the hearing panel will either notify the offender of the panel's decision and the reasons for the decision or the hearing panel may take the decision under advisement.
20.25.505 CRITERIA FOR RELEASE GRANT DECISIONS ON NONMEDICAL PAROLE
- A hearing panel may release an eligible offender on nonmedical parole only when, in its opinion:
- there is reasonable probability that the offender can be released without detriment to himself/herself or to the community;
- release is in the best interests of society;
- the offender is able and willing to fulfill the obligations of a law-abiding citizen; and
- the offender does not require continued correctional treatment, or mental health therapy, vocational or other programs available in the correctional facility that will substantially enhance the offender's capacity to lead a law-abiding life if released.
- In making its determination regarding release, the hearing panel may consider each of the following factors:
- the offender's maturity, stability, sense of responsibility and development of traits and behaviors which increase the likelihood the offender will conform his/her behaviors to the requirements of law;
- the adequacy of the offender's release plan;
- the offender's ability and readiness to assume obligations and undertake responsibilities;
- the offender's education and training;
- the offender's family status and whether the offender has relatives who display an interest or whether the offender has other close and constructive associations in the community;
- the offender's employment history, occupational skills, and the stability of the offender's past employment;
- the types of residence, neighborhood or community in which the offender plans to live;
- the offender's past use of chemicals (including alcohol), and past habitual and/or abusive use of such chemicals;
- the offender's mental and/or physical makeup;
- the offender's prior criminal record, including the nature and circumstances of the offense, date of offense and frequency of previous offenses;
- the offender's attitude toward law and authority;
- the offender's conduct in the institution, including particularly whether the offender has taken advantage of opportunities for treatment, and whether the offender is clear of major disciplinary reports prior to the hearing;
- the offender's behavior and attitude during any previous experience of supervision and the recency of such experience;
- any statement of the victim or victims of the offense;
- whether parole at this time would diminish the seriousness of the offense; and
- any and all other factors which the hearing panel determines to be relevant.
The day of the initial parole hearing:
Offenders will be called down from their housing units to wait for their hearings. At the hearing, there will be three parole board members on the Hearing Panel along with Board staff. If there are witnesses or family members, they will be escorted into the hearing room. If family members have questions regarding the hearing or how to present testimony they can ask Board staff prior to the hearing. Prison and treatment personnel from the institution may also be in attendance. The Hearing Panel and the Offender will be introduced. The Panel will go over the record with the offender and ask any questions they feel appropriate. They will ask if there is any witnesses that would like to testify in support or opposition and give them the opportunity to say what they wish. All comments should be directed to the Hearing Panel and not to the offender. The offenders will be allowed to present their plan and explain why they think they should be granted a parole. After all testimony is given, the Hearing Panel members will render a decision orally and in writing. The offender is usually given the written disposition shortly after hearing by Board staff. Board staff will ask if the offender has any questions. Family members and witnesses are escorted from the hearings room and also given another opportunity for questions from the Board staff. The Board staff can explain any programs or what will happen next in the process. The institutional probation and parole officer, referred to as the IPPO, is also handed a copy of the parole disposition. If the offender is given forward movement towards parole, either a parole or endorsements for community programs such as Prerelease, Boot Camp, or Treatment programs, the IPPO will set up an appointment to meet with the offender and prepare the appropriate paperwork. Please refer to the Administrative Rules below for list of possible decision that the Board could determine.
- A final decision of the hearing panel must be by a majority vote, must be in writing, and must be signed by at least two panel members.
- Following the parole hearing, the hearing panel may make any of the following dispositions:
- grant parole;
- grant conditional parole, subject to approval and verification of the parole plan;
- grant conditional parole to occur within a specified time period or upon completion of a contingency, including but not limited to completion of treatment or prerelease, completion of additional clear conduct, or completion of a specific amount of time on the sentence;
- continue the offender to a subsequent reconsideration hearing at an interval consistent with ARM 20.25.402(2) and (3), but in any case not to exceed six years. The hearing panel may order that the offender is not subject to administrative review except as provided in ARM 20.25.402(6);
- schedule an administrative review; and
- pass the offender to discharge if the date of discharge is less than six years away or if the offender has requested to serve to discharge.
- If the hearing panel denies the offender parole, the disposition must state the reasons for denial.
- The decision of the hearing panel, including reasons for such, will be delivered to the offender and any victims who have requested the board's decision within 21 calendar days of the hearing.
- Board staff will post information regarding hearing panel decisions on individual cases on its web site within 21 calendar days of the hearing panel's decision.
- If a two-member hearing panel is unable to reach a unanimous decision, the board chair shall appoint a third member to consider all pertinent information and render a final decision.
- If the offender can present evidence that the hearing panel's decision was based on erroneous or false information, or that a hearing was not conducted according to the board procedure, a newly appointed hearing panel may reconsider the decision.
- The offender must submit a written request for reconsideration to the board chair or designee within 60 days following the delivery of the written disposition.
- If the offender presents sufficient evidence the chair or designee will forward the case to a hearing panel for its consideration.
- A duly constituted hearing panel will make the following administrative decisions at the board's monthly business meeting after panel members have reviewed the offender's case record. Those decisions do not require the approval of the members who made the most recent parole determination:
- revocation of parole if the offender has waived the hearing;
- rescission of previously granted parole;
- the addition or deletion of special conditions;
- requests for supervision fee waivers;
- requests for conditional discharge from supervision; and
- a change or modification of a previous hearing panel decision that does not reverse a parole denial or a parole grant decision.
After the Hearing:
If granted a parole, the IPPO meets with the offender and completes a Request for Investigation. This Request for Investigation includes where the offender will live, where they will work, what the conditions of parole, projected program completion dates, programming, violent and sexual offender registration information and if any victims have been notified. Once completed by the IPPO, the Request for Investigation will be forwarded to the Parole Board office. The Request for Investigation is checked for accuracy by the Parole Board staff, the file is prepared and it is sent to the Department of Corrections Probation and Parole office in the area that the offender wishes to reside. Once the Request for Investigation is received by the Parole Board, it is usually mailed out to the Probation & Parole office within five working days. The Parole Board does not supervise offenders. That is done by the Department of Corrections. Once the Department of Corrections receives the Request for Investigation and the file, per policy, the Parole Officer has 30 days to conduct an investigation if an offender is paroling from a prison setting. If an offender is paroling from a Prerelease, the Parole Officer has 15 days to conduct the investigation. As part of the investigation, the Parole Officer must go to the proposed residence and must verify employment if one is given. The Parole Officer either approves or denies the parole plan. If they approve the plan, they will fill out paperwork and set a day for the offender to report to their office. This paperwork, including rules of parole is sent to the Parole Board and to the IPPO. The IPPO will go over the rules of parole with the offender, making sure they understand the rules, and the offender signs the agreement and commits to abide by those rules. A travel permit is issued and arrangements are made for the offender to leave the facility on parole. This process can take between four to six weeks, depending on outside agencies. The Parole Board has no control over either the facilities or the Department of Corrections. Each agency has a part to do in the process and are independent of each other. However, everyone works to their best to assure offenders are paroled in a speedy and efficient manner.
If a parole plan is denied by the Parole Officer, they complete a form and state the reasons why the plan was denied. The Offender and IPPO then try to develop a different or alternate plan or to rectify the parts of the plan that were not acceptable. The IPPO will continue to work with the offender until all possibilities are exhausted. If no parole plans can be found, the IPPO, offender or MSP staff can ask the Parole Board to review the case.
Any violent or sexual offender must register with the appropriate agency 10 days prior to release from the institution. This registration may add some time to the release process, but is set out by statute and must be complied with.
Offenders can ask for a parole to another state. Offenders must meet certain requirements in order to be supervised through Interstate Compact. They must have immediate family in that state, own property or have been a resident in that state immediately prior to their conviction. There is a $50 fee for processing Interstate paperwork that needs to be paid to the Department of Corrections by either the offender or their family. If funds are not available, the offender can work with the IPPO to see if the fee can be waived. An Interstate parole can take up longer to process, around 60- 90 days. The IPPO and offender complete the Request for Investigation along with an application for Interstate services. The paperwork is forward to the Parole Board and it is reviewed for accuracy and then sent to the Montana Interstate Compact Office in Helena. The Compact Office will then send it to the state the offender wishes to reside in and that state will then make their investigation. Once that is completed, they will notify Montana and arrangements for release will be made as mentioned above, with offenders signing the rules and getting Travel Permits.