Parole is the early release of an inmate prior to the expiration of his or her sentence of incarceration. Parole is a privilege, not a right. The offender has the right to be released only upon completion of the sentence that was handed down by the court.
Parole eligibility date – Every offender sentenced to the Department of Corrections or to the Montana State Prisons is given a parole eligibility date. By statute, the date is one fourth of the sentence less jail credit for non-life sentences. This date is calculated by the Prison Records department. The information is given to the parole board and the offender.
Timing of parole hearing – When an offender who is in secure custody is two months away from their parole eligibility date (1/4 of their sentence), the Prison Records department notifies the Parole Board.
Pre-parole school – Prison or facility staff then conduct a pre-parole school for offenders and explain the parole hearing and waiver processes.
- Offenders fill out a parole application and ask any questions they might have regarding the parole process.
- Offenders are informed that they can have family or witnesses come to their hearings but that the witnesses must contact the Board 30 working days in advance. If witnesses are not on the approved visitor list, they must provide the Board with their Social Security number and birth date.
- Any written correspondence must be sent to the counselor at the facility in which the offender is housed. The correspondence is then submitted to the Board along with the offender's parole report.
- Offenders are informed that, should they be granted parole, it usually takes between four to six weeks before they can actually leave the institution.
- It is imperative that inmates develop a sound plan that has been verified before they see the Board. If the plan changes or is not approved, it will slow down the release process.
Waiver process – Offenders can waive their initial parole hearing for up to six months if they feel it is in their best interest. If offenders waive and then decide 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.
Offenders should appear before the Board in their best light. Before appearing, offenders should have:
- clear conduct
- completed recommended programming that addresses their risk factors
The day of the initial parole hearing
Offenders are called from their housing units to wait for their hearing.
Hearing panel and other participants – The hearing is conducted by three parole board members, assisted by their staff.
It may also include victims, witnesses or family members, and prison and treatment personnel.
If victims, witnesses or family members have questions about the hearing or how to present testimony, they can ask Board staff prior to the hearing.
The Hearing – All comments should be directed to the hearing panel and not to the offender. The hearing will follow the steps below:
- The Board member leading the hearing introduces the Parole Board members on the hearing panel and the offender
- The panel goes over the offender’s record with the offender, and members ask the offender any questions they feel appropriate.
- The panel asks if there are any witnesses who would like to testify in support of or opposition to the parole, and gives the witnesses the opportunity make a statement.
- The offender is asked to present his or her plan and explain why they think they should be granted a parole.
- Following the testimony, the hearing panel members announce their decision, formally called the “parole disposition,” orally and in writing. The offender is given the written disposition within 21 calendar days of the hearing.
- Family members and witnesses are also given another opportunity to ask questions of the Board. The Board or its 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 given a copy of the parole disposition. If the offender is granted parole or movement towards parole, either a parole or endorsements for community programs such as prerelease or treatment programs, the IPPO sets up an appointment to meet with the offender and prepare the appropriate paperwork.
After the Hearing
The Parole Board does not supervise offenders. That is done by the Department of Corrections.
Request for Investigation – If an offender is granted a parole, the IPPO meets with the offender and completes a Request for Investigation. This includes:
- where the offender will reside and work
- special conditions of parole
- programming and projected program completion dates
- registration information for violent and sexual offenders
- whether any victims have been notified
Board review – The IPPO forwards the completed Request for Investigation to the Parole Board office. Board staff checks the Request for Investigation for accuracy, prepares the field file and mails it to the DOC Probation and Parole office in the area the offender wishes to reside in. This typically takes Board staff about 5 days.
Probation and Parole (P&P) review – The assigned Probation and Parole officer (PO) then investigates the Request for Investigation and field file. As part of the investigation, the PO must go to the proposed residence and verify employment, if it is indicated in the plan. The Parole Officer either approves or denies the parole plan.
The PO has 5 business days to complete the investigation. This may be extended to 15 business days with extenuating or prohibitive circumstances (i.e. if the inmate is a sexual or violent offender).
Approved plans – If the PO approves a plan, they fill out the paperwork and set a day for the offender to report to their office. This paperwork, which includes rules of parole, is sent to the Parole Board and to the IPPO. The IPPO goes over the rules of parole with offenders, making sure they understand the rules, and the offender signs the agreement and commits to abide by those rules.
The IPPO issues a travel permit and arranges 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 prison facilities or the Department of Corrections. Each agency has a part to do in the process and is independent of the other. However, everyone works to ensure that offenders are paroled in an efficient manner.
Denied plans – If the PO denies a parole plan, they complete a form and state the reasons the plan was denied. The offender and IPPO then try to develop an alternate plan, or to rectify the parts of the plan that were not acceptable. The IPPO continues to work with the offender until all possibilities are exhausted. If no parole plan can be developed, the IPPO, offender or MSP staff can ask the Parole Board to review the case.
Sexual or Violent Offender Registration – 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. The Registry is run by the Montana Department of Justice.
Parole to another state – Offenders can ask for a parole to another state. Offenders must meet certain requirements to be supervised through the Interstate Compact. They must:
- have immediate family in that state who are willing to provide financial support
- have been a resident in that state immediately prior to committing their offense
Offenders or their family must pay the Department of Corrections a $50 fee for processing the Interstate Compact paperwork. If offenders do not have sufficient funds, they can work with the IPPO to see if the fee can be waived.
An interstate parole may take longer to process, typically around 60 to 90 days.
- The IPPO and offender complete the Request for Investigation along with an application for Interstate Compact services.
- The application is forwarded to the Parole Board and reviewed for accuracy before being sent to the Montana Interstate Compact Office in Helena.
- The Compact Office then sends it to the state the offender wishes to reside in and that state conducts its investigation.
- The receiving state notifies Montana and arrangements for release are made as mentioned above, with offenders signing the rules and getting the required travel permits.