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​Making Parole Decisions

The Parole Board uses a valid and reliable risk and needs assessment instrument to assist with parole decisions, as well as other nationally recognized assessments.

When determining if an inmate is ready to be paroled, the Parole Board’s decision makers use these principles to guide their decisions:
• Defer to the sentencing court regarding issue of appropriate punishment
• The sentencing court is the arbiter of just punishment
• Ensure all inmates are accurately and consistently evaluated for their readiness to parole to enhance public safety and use a structured decisional instrument
• Because of the significant stakes involved in violent crimes, the Parole Board evaluates violent offenses at a more stringent standard than non-violent offenses
• The Parole Board supports order and safety within the state Department of Corrections (DOC)

Human behavior is difficult to predict. A risk assessment is a statistical tool that does not predict which individual will re-offend, but identifies groups likely to re-offend. The risk assessment may place an inmate in a high risk group, but specifically which inmate in the group will re-offend is difficult to identify.

The Parole Decisional Instrument

The Parole Board uses a Parole Decisional Instrument (PB 361) to analyze individual cases and guide consistency in decision making. The instrument is a guide to advise the decision maker. It does not replace professional discretion and does not bind the Parole Board to grant or deny parole, or create a right, presumption or reasonable expectation that parole will be granted.

According to §6135(a) of the Parole Code, the Parole Board shall consider the following factors when a person is eligible for parole:

  • The nature and circumstances of the offense committed.
  • Any recommendations made by the trial judge and prosecuting attorney.
  • The general character and background of the inmate.
  • Participation by an inmate sentenced after February 19, 1999, and who is serving a sentence for a crime of violence as defined in 42 Pa.C.S. § 9714(g) (relating to sentences for second and subsequent offenses) in a victim impact education program offered by the Department of Corrections.
  • The written or personal statement of the testimony of the victim or the victim's family submitted under section 6140 (relating to victim statements, testimony and participation in hearing).
  • The notes of testimony of the sentencing hearing, if any, together with such additional information regarding the nature and circumstances of the offense committed for which sentence was imposed as may be available.
  • The conduct of the person while in prison and his physical, mental and behavioral condition and history, his history of family violence and his complete criminal record.

Other requirements considered are the status of program completion and the person’s adjustment to prison. Incarcerated individuals need to remain misconduct free. The Parole Board looks at all misconducts - this includes all Class I and Class II misconducts - but generally expects people to be misconduct-free for at least a year before release.

After the Interview, the decision to grant or refuse parole is recorded. The Board Action is the only public record that documents the decision of the Parole Board to grant or deny parole. All other records, reports and other written information, evaluations and opinions are protected, confidential and privileged under 37 Pa. Code § 61.2.

The Board Action contains the decision to:
• Parole and the reasons for granting parole and the conditions of parole supervision in the community. 
• Refuse parole with specific requirements to be fulfilled by the time of the next parole review is to take place and the reasons for denying parole.

Each case is voted on by the Board Members and Hearing Examiners. How many votes are required per case is determined by the type of offense.