Parole in the Federal Court System

Parole was abolished in the federal criminal system in 1984.

I was in federal court today in Natchez, Mississippi, in the courtroom of the Honorable Judge David Bramlette, and Judge Bramlette mentioned during a hearing that at least 80% of the lawyers who appear before him do not know that there is no parole in the federal criminal system anymore.  I sensed some concern on his part that perhaps not all defendants were being properly advised of their rights before appearing before him.

Like all good judges, Judge Bramlette takes care to ensure all defendants understand the consequences of their important decisions, and the implications of their brief appearances in court before him.  He does this not only to protect the record of the proceedings, but to protect the rights of the Defendant.  It is a good thing that judges do this, but hopefully you aren’t depending on the court to explain everything to you, because that is not their job. It is your lawyer’s job to ensure you understand your rights, and to properly advise you of all reasonably foreseen issues in your case.  You cannot consider parole as a part of any federal sentence for crimes committed after November 1, 1987.


What is parole?

In most courts, parole means the supervised release of a prisoner before the completion of their originally-adjudged prison time.  Parole is different than “good time” (time credited to a prison sentence due to good behavior in jail) and “medical release” (release from prison due to medical reasons).


What happened to parole in the federal system?

The U.S. Congress eliminated parole in 1984 for offenses that occurred after November 1, 1987.  The U.S. Parole Commission (the “parole board” for federal inmates) is still in existence, however, for federal offenders that are eligible for parole for offenses committed before 1987, certain other offenses, military offenders, and offenders who are in the federal witness protection program.

Defendants sentenced for offenses committed on or after November 1, 1987 serve “determinate terms” under the federal sentencing guidelines and are not eligible for parole, but each sentence will likely include a “supervised release” component, provided as a separate part of the sentence under the jurisdiction of the court.


Is parole still available for Mississippi state crimes?

Yes, but of course there are many rules to consider.  Parole for Mississippi crimes will be the subject of another post.