Who Is Eligible for Parole?

All persons imprisoned in state prison are eligible for parole, except those sentenced to life without the possibility of parole.

If a person was sentenced to a determinate term, such as 7 years, they will automatically be placed on parole upon completion of their sentence (calculated using “good time” credits). If a person was sentenced to an indeterminate life term, such as life in prison with the possibility of parole or 15 years to life, parole is not automatic. The California Board of Parole Hearings will first hold a hearing (often referred to as a “lifer” hearing because it is limited to those sentenced to indeterminate life terms) to examine the person’s “suitability” for parole.

The Parole Eligibility Hearing Is a Critical Event

If found suitable for parole at the eligibility hearing, the person is released from prison and placed under parole supervision. The outcome of the hearing can mean (supervised) freedom or it can mean further incarceration. Although a person may be entitled to another parole hearing later, the best outcome is to have parole granted at the first hearing.

Planning and preparing for the hearing, therefore, are of utmost importance. While the ultimate decision of whether to grant parole is left up to the Board, the person seeking parole can sway the decision by the evidence and testimony presented at the hearing.

When Does the Board Grant Parole?

California PC 3041(b)(1) states that the Board “shall grant parole” unless it finds that the “gravity” of the current convicted offense or offenses, or the “timing and gravity” of a current or past convicted offense or offenses, is such that public safety requires that the person be incarcerated for a longer term. The ultimate issue the Board decides is whether the person is a current threat to public safety. If not, the Board is supposed to grant parole. Keeping this standard in mind is key to a successful parole hearing.

If you have questions about parole eligibility, you should speak with an attorney who is familiar with California law. Call Spolin & Dukes P.C. at (310) 424-5816.

  1. Who Is Eligible for Parole?
  2. The First Meeting With the Parole Board
  3. Comprehensive Risk Assessment & Suitability for Parole
  4. The Parole Hearing: Testify & Show Insight
  5. Learn About the Leading CA Parole Attorneys

Who Is Eligible for Parole?

Preparation for the parole hearing should start long before — years before — the hearing date. California’s parole process is designed to help an inmate show that parole is suitable in their case. At different stages of the process, the Board of Parole Hearing provides the inmate with notice of the action they should take to be granted parole. Implementing those action points is likely to lead to a successful parole hearing outcome.

PC 3041(a)(1) requires the Board to do the following:

  • Meet with an inmate during the sixth year before the inmate’s minimum eligible parole date to review and document the inmate’s activities and conduct pertinent to parole eligibility;
  • Provide the inmate information about the parole hearing process, legal factors relevant to their suitability or unsuitability for parole, and individualized recommendations for the inmate regarding his or her work assignments, rehabilitative programs, and institutional behavior; and
  • Issue its positive and negative findings and recommendations to the inmate in writing.

Implementing Recommendations from the Parole Board

The legal team at Spolin & Dukes P.C. discuss a client’s case to determine the best strategies to win at the parole hearing.

The legal team at Spolin & Dukes P.C. discuss a client’s case to determine the best strategies to win at the parole hearing.

This meeting and its consequent report are gold for preparation for the later parole hearing. The Board’s review as described gives a person a precise path to follow to obtain parole at the earliest date possible. The Board’s current thinking on parole gives clues to what the person can do to enhance the likelihood that they will be found suitable for parole.

The person seeking parole, as well as their attorney, should scrutinize the Board’s positive and negative findings for indications that parole might not be granted. Future conduct can be tailored to eliminate any negative findings the Board may have had.

The hearing required by this PC 3041(a)(1) should prompt the inmate to:

  • Participate in any work assignments or rehabilitative programs suggested by the Board
  • Reverse negative institutional behavior
  • Gather documentation related to the parole suitability factors (described below)
  • Direct notes or letters to their attorney of their personal progress in prison, such as developing positive relationships, volunteering, formal or informal attempts at self-improvement, formal or informal assistance in recognizing the wrongfulness of his or her conduct, demonstrations of remorse for the offense, positive life events that include his or her family or friends, communications with friends and family members, and efforts to learn marketable skills. Journaling progress is important because events may be forgotten by the time of the parole hearing. A list or journal of events is helpful in piecing together a picture for the Board of a person suitable for parole. The notes or letters should be directed to the attorney to maintain attorney-client privilege.
  1. Who Is Eligible for Parole?
  2. The First Meeting With the Parole Board
  3. Comprehensive Risk Assessment & Suitability for Parole
  4. The Parole Hearing: Testify & Show Insight
  5. Learn About the Leading CA Parole Attorneys

Comprehensive Risk Assessment & Suitability for Parole

Between four and six months prior to the parole consideration hearing, a Board psychologist will interview the person eligible for parole, review their Central File, and write a report that attempts to predict their risk of future violence. This report is the Comprehensive Risk Assessment (CRA). Long before this review takes place, the inmate should have made significant strides toward establishing that they are suitable for parole (as described below). The CRA is given great weight at the hearing, so the inmate must be well-prepared to demonstrate their readiness.

If the CRA finds that the inmate does not understand the factors that contributed to their crime or has not resolved some of those factors, it will conclude that the person lacks “insight” and needs more time and therapy to work on those areas, likely resulting in denial of parole.

Reviewing the Factors that Make the Inmate “Suitable” for Parole

Fortunately, the California parole laws and rules give an inmate and their attorney guidance on how to demonstrate the necessary insight. This guidance should govern the inmate’s preparation for the CRA as well.

The ultimate issue to be decided is whether the person is a current danger to the public. To make this determination, the Board looks at factors that make parole “unsuitable” and those that make it “suitable.”

Factors Indicating Unsuitability

The offense was particularly heinous or sadistic. For example, multiple victims were attacked, injured, or killed in the same or separate incidents; the offense was carried out in a dispassionate and calculated manner, such as an execution-style murder; the victim was abused, defiled, or mutilated during or after the offense; the offense was carried out in a manner that demonstrates an exceptionally callous disregard for human suffering; or the motive for the crime is inexplicable or very trivial in relation to the offense. A person’s previous record, especially if it involved either violent crimes at an early age or sadistic sex crimes, may also support the Board’s determination that a person is a current threat to public safety.

These factors will guide the Board’s decision on whether the crime was “particularly egregious,” which would justify the denial of parole. A determination that a crime is “particularly egregious” requires the Board to point to evidence that the violence or viciousness of the crime was more than is inherent in the crime committed. Further, the nature of the offense may provide a basis for the denial of parole only if the Board can link the offense with a finding of current dangerousness.

Unstable social history. A history of unstable or tumultuous relationships with others.

Psychological factors. A history of severe mental problems related to the offense.

Poor institutional behavior. Serious misconduct in prison or jail.

Change — significant change that is documented — is the key to preventing a finding that the circumstances listed above show unsuitability for parole. Demonstrating in concrete ways how the person has changed personally may permit the Board to find that parole is suitable despite the nature of the offense for which they were incarcerated. For example, if the person has undergone significant counseling for issues that contributed to the crime, has documented behavioral changes that indicate an unlikeliness to commit a similar crime, or has experienced a change in their family structure such that the circumstances of the crime are unlikely to be repeated, the Board may still find parole suitable.

Factors Indicating Suitability

Lack of a juvenile record. No record of assaulting others as a juvenile or committing crimes with a potential of personal harm to victims.

Stable social history. Reasonably stable relationships with others.

Signs of remorse. Performing acts that indicate remorse, such as attempting to repair the damage, seeking help for or relieving the victim’s suffering, or indications that the inmate understands the nature and magnitude of the offense.

Life stress that contributed to the crime. The crime was the result of significant stress, especially stress that had built over a long period of time.

Battered Woman Syndrome or intimate partner battering. At the time of the commission of the crime, the prisoner suffered from Battered Woman Syndrome or intimate partner battering, and the criminal behavior was the result of that victimization.

Lack of criminal history. The prisoner lacks any significant history of violent crime.

Age. The prisoner’s present age reduces the probability of recidivism.

Plans for the future. The prisoner has made realistic plans for release and/or has developed marketable skills that can be put to use upon release.

Positive institutional behavior. Institutional activities indicate an enhanced ability to function within the law upon release.

Other issues that the inmate should consider include:

  • The factors in their childhood and upbringing that contributed to the crime and how they have addressed those factors;
  • The inmate’s own personal character traits that contributed to the crime, how they contributed, and whether they contributed to any misconduct in prison, whether documented in the inmate’s file or not;
  • The tools that the person has that they did not have at the time of the crime to help them cope with the situations that prompted the crime;
  • The specific programs that gave the person the coping tools referred to above;
  • The challenges the inmate anticipates upon being paroled and how their parole plan and support system will help address those challenges; and
  • The specific patterns of behavior the inmate needs to engage in to prevent relapse, in addition to specific warning signs or triggers of a potential relapse and coping mechanisms in response to those warning signs or triggers. The inmate should be able to identify the triggers that are external (people, places, and things) and those that are internal (thoughts, feelings and character traits).

Of all of these suitability factors listed above, the most important are (1) insight into the crime; (2) demonstrations of remorse and an understanding of the magnitude of the offense, and (3) plans for the future.

The statute says that the Board is to grant parole unless it finds that the inmate is a danger to the public. That is its primary focus—the safety of the public. An inmate who has no insight into how and why they committed the crime poses a threat of reoffending, and therefore, is a threat to the public. Someone with insight is not.

To learn how these factors apply to your case, contact Spolin & Dukes P.C. at (310) 424-5816.

Showing Evidence of Remorse to the Parole Board

Likewise, any person who is not remorseful and does not understand the wrongfulness of their actions is more likely to be a threat to the public than someone who does. An implausible, unsupported, or unfounded denial of guilt may support a finding of current dangerousness. This factor, then, is critical to the parole hearing. If possible, the person should attempt to make amends for the crime. The person should also take affirmative, documented action to show their remorse and understanding.

One way the inmate can express their regret is by writing a letter to the victim (not sending the letter, simply writing one) and anyone else affected by their crime, such as family members or friends, stating sincere remorse. Focused and specific, the letter should acknowledge and show an understanding of the wide-ranging negative impact of the offense. The focus should be on expressing empathy for the victim and not on the inmate’s social history prior to the crime, their attempts to get help or treatment for problems that contributed to the crime, or to discuss how they have changed. These letters can be given to the Board at the hearing.

If the inmate does not feel comfortable writing (or cannot write), they may use some other creative means to express remorse, such as a poem, song, or drawing. A concrete expression of remorse and acceptance of responsibility is a powerful way to establish that they are not a risk to the public. Any step in this direction is better than no step.

Making Plans for the Future Upon Release

The fact that the inmate has plans for the future also demonstrates a lack of danger to the public. Someone who is participating in society is less likely to commit an offense against it. Demonstrating through documents, letters, records of phone calls, or other means that the inmate has realistic plans for work and/or to re-engage in society after they are paroled sends a powerful message to the Board.

The inmate should develop or enhance their vocational skills as much as possible in prison and should stay current with news of the industry in which they worked or plans to work. The inmate also needs to demonstrate insight into the challenges they will face upon being released and the specific methods they will use to meet those challenges. The more specific and realistic the plan, the greater the likelihood that the Board will find that the inmate is not a danger to the public.

Obtaining Support from Family and Friends

Family and friends can provide support on this issue through letters to the Board. These letters should demonstrate the support system that the person will have upon release. This includes where the inmate will live once released; where they will have or may have employment; where they will participate in any necessary transitional program (such as drug, alcohol, or mental health treatment); and any other financial, emotional, or spiritual support they will have to meet their needs.

Many of the suitability factors listed above — criminal history, age, life stress — are out of the control of the inmate to change. Showing that the inmate has taken action on factors within their control sends a strong signal to the Board about their lack of danger to society.

Review the Master Packet

The inmate and their attorney are provided access to a “Master Packet” at least sixty days prior to the scheduled hearing date. This packet contains key documents from the inmate’s Central File that the Board will consider at the parole suitability hearing.

The inmate should review the packet carefully with their attorney to be sure all relevant information is included. They have the right to obtain any non-confidential materials in their Central File by sending what is known as an “Olson review request” to their correctional counselor. The inmate should use this right to make sure that all the documents favorable to the inmate are included in the packet the Board reviews to make its decision. Confidential documents are not made available to the inmate but are noted on Form 810, which catalogs all documents added to the Central File. The inmate will have to review Form 810 and try to remember what kind of document might have been added to the file. This is the only way to prepare a response to confidential documents, which are made available to the Board.

Besides the official Central File documents, the inmate should make sure that previously obtained letters and other documents from family, friends, neighbors, clergy, prior employers, potential employers, and anyone else with positive information about them that relates to the suitability factors, especially insight, remorse, and plans for the future, are in the Master Packet. If such documentation is missing, this is the last chance to obtain it.

Review the Ten-Day Packet and Finalize the Documents

No later than ten days prior to the hearing, the inmate should be provided a “Ten-Day Packet” that includes all documents that the Board will consider, including written statements from the prosecutor, police, or victims. The inmate and their attorney should compare these documents with those from the Master Packet and review any newly produced documents. New documents that contain negative information about the inmate should prompt a review of the inmate’s documents to be sure they have information to counter the new documentation, if possible.

The inmate should review any statement given by anyone impacted by their crime. By this time, the inmate should already have expressed remorse or tried to make amends, but, if they did not, the victim’s statement can be used to help the inmate articulate their regret and recognition of the ill effects of their crime.

A seasoned parole attorney should always help review the Master Packet and Ten-Day Packet. For help with your case, contact Spolin & Dukes P.C. at (310) 424-5816.

  1. Who Is Eligible for Parole?
  2. The First Meeting With the Parole Board
  3. Comprehensive Risk Assessment & Suitability for Parole
  4. The Parole Hearing: Testify & Show Insight
  5. Learn About the Leading CA Parole Attorneys

The Parole Hearing: Testify and Show Insight

Attorneys Aaron Spolin and Don Nguyen prepare for an upcoming parole hearing | Spolin & Dukes P.C.

Attorneys at Spolin & Dukes P.C. prepare for an upcoming parole hearing where they will work to prove their client deserves to be released from incarceration.

The inmate should be prepared to testify at the hearing about the following:

  • Their life prior to the life crime
  • Any prior juvenile or adult criminal history
  • The current offense and the circumstances surrounding it
  • Good and bad conduct in prison
  • The CRA
  • Plans for release upon parole

The testimony must demonstrate that the inmate has “insight” into their crime, which means they:

  • Have a clear understanding of how their background contributed to the commission of the crime
  • Have a clear understanding of what circumstances led to the crime
  • Have resolved their background issues and the circumstances leading to the crime and can prevent a relapse

The inmate’s insight into their criminal behavior, as well as documentation of sincere remorse and plans for post-prison life, will show that the inmate is not a threat to the public and is suitable for parole.

  1. Who Is Eligible for Parole?
  2. The First Meeting With the Parole Board
  3. Comprehensive Risk Assessment & Suitability for Parole
  4. The Parole Hearing: Testify & Show Insight
  5. Learn About the Leading CA Parole Attorneys

Learn About the Attorneys at Spolin & Dukes P.C.

Attorneys Don Nguyen, Aaron Spolin, and Jeremy Cutcher, and legal researcher Dan DeMaria | Spolin & Dukes P.C.

The team at Spolin & Dukes P.C. has the knowledge and skills to help clients prepare for their parole hearings. Call us today at (310) 424-5816.

Preparation for the parole hearing should start years before the hearing itself and long before the CRA, especially if the offense for which the person was convicted was particularly egregious. Careful planning and the conduct of the inmate can be the difference between parole and continued incarceration.

Spolin & Dukes P.C.’s attorneys can help inmates prepare for their parole hearings:

  • We know how to support a parole case. We gather information from our clients, their family and friends, medical providers, and as many other sources as possible. We understand the standard that must be met to show the Parole Board you are not a threat to the public.
  • We know the parole process. Preparing for a parole hearing can take years. Spolin & Dukes P.C. works with clients on an ongoing basis to provide solid legal advice about what to do while in prison as well as how to testify at the hearing.
  • We fight hard. Spolin & Dukes P.C. has a record of fighting hard for their clients. We carefully evaluate the facts of every case and develop strategies designed to give our clients the best chance at being granted parole.

If you have questions about your case, contact the experienced attorneys at the law firm of Spolin & Dukes P.C. at (310) 424-5816.