Compared to a jail or prison sentence, parole (also called supervised release in Minnesota) sounds pretty good.  However, parole is not the same as a pardon in that it does not fully discharge a convicted defendant from his sentence.  Instead, parole is a method for disciplinary treatment of prisoners capable of rehabilitation outside of prison, allowing the convicted defendant to be released and live and work outside of prison pursuant to certain conditions.

In some circumstances, parole is the default assumption.  If a sentence of more than five years, but not a life sentence, has been imposed on a defendant for a crime authorizing a sentence of not more than ten years, the commissioner of corrections is required to grant parole no later than the expiration of five years of imprisonment.  This is further reduced by the time granted for good behavior.  However, if the Commissioner of Corrections determines that the defendant’s parole would not be conducive to rehabilitation or would not be in the public interest, there is no requirement to grant parole.  Additionally, this provision does not apply to persons convicted of a third violent felony.

“Not in the public interest” can be a broad term.  For example, Dennis Kozlowski, the former CEO of Tyco International who was convicted of larceny and multiple financial crimes in 2005, sounded like a sure candidate for release:  no violent background, no disciplinary infractions while in prison, completion of various prison educational programs, and successful participation in a work release scheme.  However, the New York State Parole Board recently denied parole to Kozlowski, finding that release would not be compatible with the welfare of society at large, and would tend to deprecate the seriousness of the instant offense.

Because Minnesota doesn’t have a parole board, the procedure here is slightly different from that in New York.  When an offender receives a prison sentence, the sentence pronounced by the court consists of two parts: a term of imprisonment and a term of supervised release.  The prison sentence will be two-thirds of the total term, and the supervised release will be the remaining one-third.  However, the amount of time the offender actually serves in prison may be extended by the Commissioner of Corrections for violation of disciplinary rules or other prison infractions.

What parole does not do is set aside or affect the sentence you received; you remain in legal custody of the state, under control of its agents.  The state can undertake random drug testing and searches and may impose a variety of other conditions, including restrictions on travel and leaving the state.  There is also the constant specter of revocation; revocation of parole is a complicated topic in its own right, but as a general proposition, revocation stems from a violation of a parole condition.