Prison and Paroles

Authored By: Carl Vinson Institute
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This document tells you the following:

  • What is the Georgia Department of Corrections and what is its role in the criminal legal system?
  • What is a holding facility?
  • How are convicted criminals assigned to a prison?
  • What is the State Board of Pardons and Paroles? What is its role in the criminal legal system?
  • What is parole? What happens if you are granted parole?
  • What are the pros and cons for allowing offenders to go on parole?


What happens to people when they are sentenced to prison? Where will they be sent? For how long?

Prison-The Place

Persons sentenced to prison in Georgia are placed in the custody of the Georgia Department of Corrections. They may be freed on bail if there is an appeal and the crime committed was not too serious. Offenders convicted of committing a misdemeanor have an absolute right to an appeal bond except in cases involving domestic violence or DUI.

Prior to being permanently assigned to a facility, offenders are taken to a holding facility. A holding facility is a place where prisoners are evaluated before being transferred to a prison. The evaluation determines the special needs of each prisoner. These needs involve security, physical and mental health, and job skills. Following this evaluation, the department assigns the prisoner to one of the state's numerous institutions. Assignment depends on the prisoner's previous record, current conviction, and needs.

Compared with other states and Western countries, Georgia has a high rate of incarceration, and its prisons are overcrowded. Older facilities create inhumane conditions. To maintain an acceptable environment in prisons and avoid costly lawsuits by inmates and human rights groups, the state continues to provide money for new prisons.

An important question is whether building new prisons is a good use of tax dollars. Time in prison doesn't necessarily deter crime, and peoples' opinions differ as to whether prison is more effective than other options, at least in some cases. Moreover, maintaining the prison system is expensive. It generally costs many times more to keep a person in prison than to put someone on probation.

Prison-The Time Served

A person's philosophy about punishment for criminal acts will affect how he or she feels about current practices that shorten the sentences of prisoners. Prisoners do not always serve the full sentence given by the judge. They may be released early to relieve prison overcrowding. Their sentence may be reduced as a reward for good behavior in prison, or they may be paroled (unless their sentence prohibits parole).

An offender who is put on parole is released from prison and allowed to serve the rest of his or her sentence in the community under the supervision of a parole officer. Prisoners look forward to reaching their parole date. This date marks the min-imum time a person must serve before being considered for parole.

Usually, the state Board of Pardons and Paroles decides whether a prisoner will receive parole. In some cases, the board's decision is restricted by statutes enacted by the state legislature. These laws are aimed at reducing recidivism as well as sending a message to potential criminal offenders. For example, in 1995, the Georgia legislature enacted a statute requiring that a person convicted of certain serious and violent crimes (such as armed robbery, murder, rape, kidnapping, aggravated sexual battery, aggravated child molestation, and aggravated sodomy) would serve at least 10 years before being granted parole.

The board consists of citizens appointed by the governor. When an eligible prisoner requests parole, the board reviews the prisoner's stay in prison. It considers the nature of the crime for which he or she was imprisoned and other factors. Then the board determines whether the person is ready for parole.

If parole is granted, the paroled offender must obey the conditions set by the parole board. Paroled offenders must not associate with known criminals or get into trouble with the law. They must see a parole officer on a regular basis. They are expected to get and keep jobs. The paroled offender is under the parole officer's supervision until the jail sentence is complete.

To better understand how a sentence and parole works, let's look back at the Case of the Central City Drug Bust.

What Penalties to Harry and Daisy Face?

If Convicted   Prison/Fine
Possession of a Schedule II Drug with Intent to Sell

1st Conviction

2nd Conviction

2-15 years

5-30 years or life imprisonment

Sale of a Schedule II Drug

1st Conviction

2nd Conviction

5-30 years

10-40 years or life imprisonment

Trafficking in Marijuana (more than 50 lbs.; greater penalties if more than 2,000 lbs.) 5-15 year mandatory minimum plus $100,000 - $1 Million mandatory fine
Contributing to the delinquency of a Minor

1st Conviction

2nd Conviction

3rd Conviction

1-5 months and/or $200-$500 fine

3-12 months and/or $400 - $1,000 fine

1-3 years and/or $1,000 - $5,000 fine

Like many other aspects of the criminal justice system, parole is controversial. Arguments for and against it are in the table below.

Parole - Pros and Cons

Pro By allowing early release, parole helps control prison overcrowding.
  Prisoners behave better when they are working toward parole.
  Parole costs taxpayers less than prison.
  Parolees have incenteives for good behavior. They know they may be sent back to prison if they aren't acting like law-abiding citizens.
  A parolee can get a job, support family, pay taxes, and contribute to the economy.
Con Caseloads for parole offiers are large, and they can't provide the supervision their parolees need.
  The best parole supervision can't keep a parolee from committing another crime.
  Parolees often have trouble getting jobs.
  Decision to parole is inexact. The more deserving may be denied parole, and the less deserving given it.

The Board of Pardons and Paroles has other powers. Governors in other states may grant a pardon or reprieve to a person who has been condemned to death. (A reprieve is the temporary suspension of a sentence.) In Georgia, however, the governor has no power to give pardons or reprieves; they are granted only by a majority vote of the Pardons and Paroles Board.


* Excerpted from An Introduction to Law in Georgia, Fourth Edition, published by the Carl Vinson Institute of Government, 1998 (updated 2004). The Vinson Institute is not responsible for errors in the online text. Content is for information only; in no way should the information in the book be considered legal advice to anyone on any matter for which there are legal implications. Any such matter should be specifically addressed with an attorney. The book is available for purchase ator by contacting the Publications Program, Carl Vinson Institute of Government, University of Georgia, 201 M. Milledge Avenue, Athens, GA 30602; telephone 706-542-6377; fax 706-542-6239.

Last Review and Update: Jul 30, 2004