Frequently Asked Questions
The Board of Parole (BOP) is an independent state commission with seven members appointed by the governor. The governor fills vacancies as they occur. Member terms are for six years, and members may be re-appointed. One member is designated as Chair of the Board for two-year terms, and may be re-appointed. The Board is charged with the responsibility of deciding whether eligible felony offenders will be granted parole and released from incarceration to community supervision. BOP also maintains a group of Parole Hearings Officers that the Board employs and trains to conduct hearings. They are geographically located in proximity to prisons and county jail. A Central Office located in Nashville provides support services for these staff.
Parole decisions on granting or revoking paroles are made by conducting hearings. During the proceeding, the hearings official asks questions of the offender, witnesses, interested parties (including offender support and victims of crime) and officials. Board Members personally conduct some cases and cast binding votes at the end of the hearing. Parole Hearings Officers conduct hearings for other offenses and make non-binding recommendations to the Board. However, Board Members make all final parole decisions. Board Members review each case and consider the information presented at the hearing, and in the offender's file. Then the Board Members, one after another, review and vote on the matter independently until a final decision is reached. Pursuant to statute, three concurring votes by the Board constitute a final parole decision for some conviction offenses, while four concurring votes are required for more serious conviction offenses. Two concurring votes are required to revoke parole. Whether a Parole Hearings Officer, a Board Member, a panel of Board Members or the full Board officiates at a particular hearing is based on the type of offense and case, as well as on scheduling constraints. Hearings are held at the TDOC prison or county jail where the offender is incarcerated.
The Board duly considers all of the following factors: nature of the offense, prior criminal history, program participation, length of time served, institutional record and community support or opposition.
Parole is one type of community supervision. In Tennessee, jurisdiction over parole is assigned to the Board of Parole (BOP). Some offenders are placed on probation. Jurisdiction over probation belongs to the sentencing court. The Department of Correction (TDOC), a separate agency from BOP, provides the supervision for both probationers and parolees in the community. Convicted offenders may either be released on probation by the court; or sentenced to serve time in a jail or prison and subsequently become eligible to be released on parole by the Board. The initial decision about sentencing all offenders is made by a judge, in compliance with the laws of the State of Tennessee. Decisions to issue a warrant, or to revoke or reinstate the community supervision status of parolees, are made by the Board. The court of record makes those decisions regarding probationers. While on community supervision, offenders must generally reside in a certain location, be employed and obey particular rules called "conditions." The offender being supervised is to report to, accept advice and instructions from, and maintain contact with a TDOC Probation/Parole Officer (PPO).
By statute, Judges are required to impose sentences and to determine the classification of the offender. Tennessee Code Annotated 40-35-101 describes the various classifications (or ranges) of offenders: including Especially Mitigated; Standard; Multiple; Persistent; and Career Offender. Based on that classification, the law mandates that a certain percentage of the sentence must be served before the offender is eligible for parole. The Tennessee Department of Correction calculates the percentage and determines the Release Eligibility Date (RED).
Tennessee Code Annotated 40-28-505 requires the Board to send written notices about parole grant hearings, final decisions made and parole releases to the trial judge, the district attorney general and the sheriff of the county where the crime was committed. The law also requires the Board to notify those victims who request in writing to be notified. Written requests must be sent to the Board at least 30 days before the hearing. The Board considers recommendations made in support of parole, as well as those made in opposition. Recommendations can be made in letters or in statements made at the hearing. All hearings are recorded.
The Board’s hearings are included in the Public Meetings Act, often referred to as the Sunshine Law, Tennessee Code Annotated 8-44-101 et seq. The hearings of the Board are open to the public, and anyone who wishes to attend may do so, consistent with the security of the institution. Limitations may be placed on the number of individuals in the hearing room at one time, based on the need for security. Additionally, Tennessee Code Annotated 40-28-501 through 505, the Open Paroles Hearings Act, mandates that parole hearings be open to the public, subject to security requirements as determined by the jailors or correctional officers, and space limitations.
Release on parole is a privilege and not a right, and no inmate convicted shall be granted parole if the Board finds that:
(1) There is a substantial risk that the defendant will not conform to the conditions of the release program;
(2) The release from custody at the time would depreciate the seriousness of the crime of which the defendant stands convicted or promote disrespect for the law;
(3) The release from custody at the time would have a substantially adverse effect on institutional discipline; or
(4) The defendant’s continued correctional treatment, medical care or vocational or other training in the institution will substantially enhance the defendant’s capacity to lead a law-abiding life when given release status at a later time.
The Board of Parole Rules and Regulations, filed as required with the Tennessee Secretary of State’s office, state that community support and/or opposition are one of the many factors that the Board weighs in making parole decisions.
An offender is required to work in a lawful occupation as a condition of his or her community supervision, unless the parolee is certifiably disabled. Only under special circumstances may this condition be waived for a brief period of time (such as immediately following release to allow a job to be found), or in the case of certain medical ailments.
Such an arrangement may be possible, depending on the case. The Interstate Commission for Adult Offender Supervision (ICAOS) coordinates the legal agreement between member states to transfer probation or parole supervision from one state to another through the Interstate Compact. The Tennessee Department of Correction oversees the Interstate Compact in Tennessee.
The Interstate Compact (Interstate Commission for Adult Offender Supervision) is known by the acronym ICAOS. It is an agency that coordinates the legal offender transfer agreement between member states, as authorized by the respective state’s legislature. The arrangement provides for the formal transfer of probation or parole supervision from one state to another. Transfers of the geographic location of the offender and of the responsibility to provide supervision must meet compact guidelines, such as family residency, employment or education.
Every case is considered individually, and multiple factors affect the decision made to grant or decline parole. Some factors are: nature and severity of the crime committed; the offender’s personal role in the crime; prior criminal record; behavior while incarcerated; views of the sentencing judge; recommendations of the institutional staff; recommendations of the prosecuting district attorney general; opinions of the victim(s) and the community; the offender’s circumstances if returned to the community; any mitigating or aggravating circumstances; the offender’s vocational training and employment history before and during incarceration; the offender’s past use of drugs and alcohol; the offender’s behavior and attitude during any previous experience on probation or parole; the offender’s release plan; where he or she intends to work and live; and objective parole prediction guidelines assessing the risk an offender may pose to society or the potential for success. In considering these factors, the Board relies on information from the following and other sources: the offender’s BOP file (includes letters, recommendations and reports); institutional file (including social history, behavior record and recommendations); incident reports; observations offered by officials, community members, medical and mental health professionals; comments and assertions by the offender and family or friends; and the experience of victims or other interested parties.
Parole eligibility is determined by the applicable statute and law under which the offender was convicted. TDOC is the official timekeeper for all state offenders. TDOC determines eligibility by calculating sentences and sentence credits (time served or granted as incentive) in compliance with Tennessee Code Annotated sections 40-35-501, 40-28-115 to 117. The Board of Parole schedules parole grant hearings for offenders upon receiving notification from TDOC that the offender is eligible for parole.
The Governor designates the Board to review Executive Clemency (commutations, pardons, stays of execution, et al) requests using specific criteria established by the Executive Office. The Board, in hearing clemency cases, submits non-binding recommendations to the Governor for consideration.
A felony is a crime that can be punished upon conviction by a sentence of one year or more of incarceration. A misdemeanor is a lesser crime that cannot be punished by more than 11 months, 29 days of incarceration. There are degrees of seriousness among felony crimes, with crimes against persons (murder, for example) being more serious in its impact and potential punishment than crimes against property, such as auto theft.
Determinate release is the release on probation of offenders who are incarcerated with one to two year sentences at his or her earliest possible release eligibility date. There is no necessity for the court or Board to hold a hearing or take action for this release to take place.
The Board of Parole maintains a Victims Services Division to assist crime victims with the parole process. Victims can sign up to be notified of hearings involving the offender in their case. They can also file victim impact statements. Victim advocates may also attend parole hearings with crime victims. To find out more about BOP Victim Services, go to (VS page) or call 1.866.795.7467.
Once you are signed up with BOP Victim Services, you will continue to receive information about the offender in your case as long as the case is active. However, if you move, you must file a Change of Address with the Board, so they can reach you at your new address.