Where to File a Complaint

Investigations

Intake/Screening

Diversionary Programs

Grand Jury

Arraignment

Status Conference

Motions

Plea to Indictment

Trial

Sentencing

Probation

Parole

Appeals

The Criminal Justice System: How It Works

Within the criminal justice system, the local or state government investigates crimes and prosecutes people who break the law. It is the responsibility of the government to maintain law and order in our communities. A crime is not only a crime against a person. It is a crime against society, or the State. Because of this, the case is called “the State versus the defendant.” The State takes the responsibility of prosecuting people who break the law and for ensuring general public safety.

Our criminal justice system was also designed to make sure that each and every citizen accused of a crime is treated fairly. Because it is important to be fair, the criminal justice process can often seem slow. Understanding this process helps you know what to expect. It is important to remember, however, that every case is different.

Investigation

When someone reports a crime or the police catch someone committing a crime, a report of the crime is written. This is called an incident report. At this time, the police help the victim complete the Victim Notification Form. An investigation must be done to try to find evidence about the crime and about the person who committed the crime. During the investigation, police officers or other law enforcement officers must find enough evidence to prove that the person accused of the crime really committed the crime.

Before someone can be arrested, the evidence collected by the police must show that there is “probable cause” (good reason to believe) that a crime was committed and that the accused either committed or took part in committing the crime. The investigation leading to an arrest or charge may take a long time, or it may take only a short time depending on many factors: Do the police know who is suspected of committing the crime? Did that person leave the area? Is there any physical evidence to collect? The police and other investigators must find witnesses and talk to them. Scientific or laboratory tests may have to be completed. No matter how long it takes, all information and evidence must be collected so that all the facts can be given to the court.

The Complaint

The criminal justice process usually begins with a complaint. The complaint is an official court document and once it is signed must go through the criminal justice system. In a complaint, either the victim or a police officer accuses a person of committing a crime. The person who signs this document is called the complainant. The complainant swears that the information in the complaint is the truth. The person accused of committing the crime is called the defendant.

Complaints are usually completed in the municipal court of the town or city where the crime took place. The municipal court judge, the court clerk or a police officer in charge can administer an oath to the complainant. This means that one of these officials asks the person filing the complaint to swear that what they say in the complaint is the truth.

There are two types of complaints: a warrant complaint and summons complaint. A warrant complaint is a complaint that is also signed by a judge or other court official and contains an arrest warrant. The arrest warrant allows any law enforcement officer in the state to arrest the person accused of committing the crime. A summons complaint is a complaint which is sent to the person accused of committing a crime and tells that person to come to court on a specific day.

A summons complaint is issued for all other offenses. These offenses are non-indictable and include offenses, such as simple assault, criminal mischief and theft under $200. Non-indictable offenses are heard in the municipal or family courts.

Warrant complaints are signed by the court when the crime is an indictable offense. Indictable offenses are what we would normally think of as a crime and are in fact the only offenses listed as crimes in the law. Indictable offenses lead to cases heard in the superior court. Listed below are some indictable offenses or crimes:

Murder                                                Kidnaping

Aggravated Manslaughter               Manslaughter

Robbery                                              Aggravated Sexual Assault

Sexual Assault                                   Aggravated Criminal Sexual Contact

Aggravated Assault                          Aggravated Arson

Arson                                                  Burglary

The court can issue an arrest warrant if the court believes a person is dangerous. The court can issue an arrest warrant when the accused does not come to court on the date specified in the summons complaint or if the court does not think the person will come to court if given a summons complaint. If a person does not appear in court on the date listed on the summons complaint, the judge can issue a “bench warrant.” A bench warrant and an arrest warrant are the same.

A third way someone can be charged with a crime is if the police and the prosecutor’s office investigate a crime and take the information collected (evidence) to the grand jury. The grand jury listens to all the information and decides if the accused could have committed the crime and then makes a formal charge.

The following sections explain how a case involving a crime or indictable offense is processed through the criminal justice system. Non-indictable offenses are handled at the municipal court.

Arrest and Pre-Trial Release

The last section described the steps leading to the arrest of someone accused of committing a crime. When a person is arrested, the person’s status in the criminal justice system changes. He or she is now a formal defendant. Prior to arrest, a person may have been a suspect or target of an investigation. But the arrest makes that person a defendant. The defendant has certain rights, such as the right to an attorney, the right to make a telephone call and the right to medical treatment.

Upon arrest, the defendant is searched and processed by the police or “booked.” This process consists of taking the defendant’s name, address, date of birth, a picture and fingerprints. This procedure is followed in all indictable offenses and in every drug offense.

Shortly after the defendant is arrested, he or she appears before either a municipal or superior court judge, depending on who makes the arrest and the type of crime. This is called the first court appearance. The first court appearance must happen within 12 hours of arrest. In some counties, the first court appearance is done at a central judicial processing court (CJP). Here, a superior court judge hears information on any offense committed in the county.

At the first court appearance, the judge hears information about the charges, tells the defendant about his or her rights and asks the defendant to say if he or she is guilty or not guilty. The judge must also decide if the defendant can be released before the trial. Several factors must be considered by the judge before making this decision:

  • the seriousness of the crime the defendant is accused of committing, the chances that the person will be convicted (found guilty) and the punishment if the person is convicted;
  • the previous criminal record of the defendant (if any) or the defendant’s previous behavior on bail;
  • the defendant’s reputation and mental condition;
  • how long the defendant has lived in the community;
  • whether the defendant has family or other relationships;
  • whether the defendant has a job;
  • statements from people in the community about the defendant’s credibility;
  • any other factors about the defendant’s reliability

The judge must consider all of these factors and decide if the defendant should be released before trial.

There are three ways a defendant can be released before trial:

  1. The defendant is released on personal recognizance (ROR) which means that the defendant must promise that he or she will come back to court on the assigned date.
  2. The judge decides the defendant cannot be trusted to come back to court by just making a promise and orders the defendant to give the court some financial assurance that he or she will come back to court. The defendant buys a bail bond. The bail bond serves as a promise of payment should the defendant not come back to court when he or she is told. The defendant may only have to pay a small amount of bail set by the judge. The defendant can use money or personal property to pay for the bail bond;
  3. The judge can order the defendant released on personal recognizance in lieu of bail. In this case, the judge sets a specific amount of bail, but the defendant does not have to buy a bail bond. However, if he or she does not come to court on the assigned date, the defendant will owe the bail amount to the court.

If the defendant does come to court on the assigned date, the judge can refund the bail monies. The judge can also order the defendant to have no contact with the victim as part of bail. This means that if the defendant tries to contact the victim in any way or tries to intimidate the victim, bail will be revoked (taken away) and the defendant will go to jail.

Intake Screening and Case Review

After the arrest of the accused or the signing of a complaint, the case is reviewed by the county prosecutor’s office. The county prosecutor’s office have the legal responsibility to decide if a case will be prosecuted in the superior court. The fact that a complaint was signed does not guarantee that the case will be prosecuted.

The most common type of case review happens in the case screening unit of the county prosecutor’s office. Attorneys (called assistant prosecutors) and detectives read the police reports and talk to witnesses.

In all counties, case review or case screening is a careful decision-making process in which the assistant prosecutor must decide whether to proceed to prosecute the person, discontinue the prosecution or give the person the option of entering a diversionary program. Possible choices include sending the case to municipal court, called downgrading; referring the case to another agency or diversion program; proceeding with prosecution; or dismissal.

Many factors are considered. The prosecutor must be able to prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt. The prosecutor must have all his or her witnesses. Also, the feelings of the victim must be considered. In the end, the decision is based on practical as well as legal considerations.

If the county prosecutor’s office decides to proceed with the case, the case is prepared for grand jury presentation and all reports, evidence and statements from witnesses are collected by detectives.

Diversionary Programs

Many events can happen before trial. The defendant may plead guilty or may agree to plead guilty if the charges are downgraded or lessened to an offense with a smaller penalty during plea negotiation. The defendant may apply for the pre-trial intervention program (PTI). The court may decide that the defendant is mentally ill or mentally disabled and does not have the ability to understand legal proceedings and cannot be tried.

Pretrial Intervention Program (PTI)

The Pretrial Intervention Program (PTI) provides defendants, generally first-time offenders, with opportunities for alternatives to the traditional criminal justice process of ordinary prosecution. PTI seeks to render early rehabilitative services, when such services can reasonably be expected to deter future criminal behavior. The PTI program is based on a rehabilitative model that recognizes that there may be an apparent causal connection between the offense charged and the rehabilitative needs of a defendant. Further, the rehabilitative model emphasizes that social, cultural, and economic conditions often result in a defendant’s decision to commit crime.

Simply stated, PTI strives to solve personal problems which tend to result from the conditions that appear to cause crime, and ultimately, to deter future criminal or disorderly behavior by a defendant.

Supervision under the PTI program may average from one to three years. Certain standard conditions are imposed on those accepted into PTI, such as, random urine monitoring, and assessments for fees, penalties and fines. Additional conditions may also be imposed to require the performance of community service, payment of restitution, and submission to psychological and/or drug and alcohol evaluations with compliance to recommended treatment programs.

The application process includes an interview with the defendant by a staff member of the Criminal Division of the Superior Court. A written report is prepared detailing the decision for admittance or rejection into the PTI program. This report is forwarded to the prosecutor and defense counsel. A defendant is accepted into PTI on the recommendation of the Criminal Division, with the consent of the prosecutor and the defendant.

If accepted, the conditions for participation are set forth in the PTI Order and must be followed for the defendant to successfully complete. If for any reason the defendant is not accepted, the applicant may appeal the decision to the Presiding Judge of the Criminal Division.

If a defendant successfully completes all the conditions of PTI, then the original charges are dismissed and there is no record of conviction.

If a defendant does not successfully complete the conditions of PTI, then the defendant is terminated from the PTI program and the case is returned to the trial list.

Drug Court

The mission of drug courts is to stop the abuse of alcohol and other drugs and related criminal activity. Drug courts are a highly specialized team process within the existing Superior Court structure that addresses nonviolent drug-related cases. They are unique in the criminal justice environment because they build a close collaborative relationship between criminal justice and drug treatment professionals.

The drug court judge heads a team of court staff, attorneys, probation officers, substance abuse evaluators and treatment professionals who work together to support and monitor a participant’s recovery. They maintain a critical balance of authority, supervision, support and encouragement.

Drug court programs are rigorous, requiring intensive supervision based on frequent drug testing and court appearances, along with tightly structured regimens of treatment and recovery services. This level of supervision permits the program to support the recovery process, but also allows supervisors to react swiftly to impose appropriate therapeutic sanctions or to reinstate criminal proceedings when participants cannot comply with the program.

The defendant’s application will be reviewed by the Drug Court Assistant Prosecutor, who will determine legal eligibility. A notice will be sent to the defense attorney with the legal decision. If the defendant is legally rejected, the defendant’s attorney may file an appeal within 14 days of receipt of the legal rejection letter.

Upon legal acceptance, the defendant will be given an appointment for a clinical evaluation. This evaluation is conducted to assess the severity of the offender’s addiction and to determine the level of treatment required. Treatment may consist of long or short term inpatient care, outpatient care or a combination of both.

Once it has been determined the defendant is legally and clinically acceptable, a plea will be scheduled by the court. Upon sentencing, a referral will be made to the recommended level of treatment, and an intake/admissions date will be secured.

Defendants participating in the drug court program under intensive supervision by a drug court probation officer for a minimum of 2.5 years up to a term of 5 years special probation.  Offenders must remain arrest free, and free of drug/alcohol use, must report to an assigned probation officer on a regular basis, maintain compliance with all treatment directives, regular attendance to self-help groups, mandatory and random drug testing, gain and maintain full time employment or attend school, make payments on court fines and/or child support obligations.

Failure to comply with the rules and regulations of the drug court program may include sanctions, violation of probation, termination from the program and a custodial prison term.

 PIP

Pre-Indictment Court (PIP) is a court designed to resolve cases in the preliminary stage, before the matter has been presented to the Grand Jury.

Plea Negotiation

Most cases in the criminal justice system end during plea negotiation. The plea negotiation is an agreement between the assistant prosecutor and the defendant in which the defendant pleads guilty to a crime and the assistant prosecutor agrees to do something for the defendant. Most often the assistant prosecutor agrees to drop some of the charges against the defendant or say that the defendant will be sentenced to a shorter time in prison. Sometimes, plea agreements include a promise by the defendant to give evidence against other defendants in a case.

Plea negotiations happen in almost every case and are a necessary part of the process for many reasons. First, cases end much faster. Also, more cases can be processed in light of a busy and crowded court calendar. Trials are very time-consuming. The assistant prosecutor considers several factors when negotiating, including the type of crime, the prior criminal record of the defendant, the impact of the crime on the victim and the strength of the case.

Plea negotiations are an important part of the process for many reasons. A plea before trial can be a guarantee that a defendant will be punished for the crime in some way. A conviction after a trial is not always guaranteed. It also means that victims and other witnesses will not have to suffer the trauma of testifying in court. Additionally, these cases are handled much faster which means defendants are punished sooner and victims can get on with their lives sooner.

The judge has the final say on any plea agreement. The judge considers the plea agreement at the pre-trial conference or plea disposition conference. During this court meeting, the plea agreement becomes a part of the official court record. The judge can decide not to allow the plea agreement. If this happens, the assistant prosecutor must start plea negotiations over again. If the judge thinks the plea agreement is reasonable, then the judge asks the defendant to say exactly why he or she is willing to accept the plea agreement. The defendant must tell the judge facts about the crime so that the judge can be sure the defendant is the one who committed the crime. None of these statements can be used against the defendant if the case later goes to trial.

If the defendant and the assistant prosecutor cannot agree on a plea, they appear before the judge at the pre-trial conference or plea disposition conference and tell the judge they could not reach an agreement. The judge then sets a trial date.

Grand Jury

In New Jersey, in order for the prosecutor’s office to continue with the prosecution of a case, the evidence that has been collected must be presented to the grand jury. The grand jury does not decide on the guilt or innocence of the person charged with the crime. The grand jury only decides if there is enough evidence to say it’s likely that the accused committed the crime and, if so, formally charges that person with the crime. This formal charge is called an indictment. An indictment gives the person accused of a crime the right to a trial by jury.

The grand jury is composed of 23 citizens who are asked to serve on the jury. Every member of the grand jury is given one vote. In order for the grand jury to indict a defendant, more than half of the jurors must vote to indict.

Grand jury proceedings are private and are not open to the public. The only people allowed in the grand jury room are the grand jurors, the clerk of the grand jury, the assistant prosecutor handling the case, a court reporter and the witness who is testifying. The assistant prosecutor asks witnesses questions about the crime. Then, the jurors have a chance to ask questions. The court reporter records what is said in the grand jury room.

Because the grand jury does not decide guilt or innocence but only whether or not there is enough evidence to say the defendant may have committed a crime, there is no defense attorney in the grand jury room. The defendant may testify if he or she wishes. However, the defendant does not have to testify at any time in any court proceeding if he or she does not wish to do so because the Fifth Amendment of the United States Constitution says that a defendant does not have to testify.

After hearing all the evidence in the case, the grand jury can conclude the hearing in one of three ways: a no bill, a true bill or a reduction of the charges.

  • By voting a no bill, the grand jury dismisses the charge(s) against the defendant, because there is not enough evidence to say this person may have committed a crime. At this point, no further action is taken and the case is closed.
  • If the grand jury decides to vote a true bill or returns an indictment, the grand jury believes there is enough evidence to say it is likely that the defendant committed the crime. The defendant is arraigned on the indictment and the case is assigned to an assistant prosecutor who prepares the case for trial.
  • The grand jury can choose to downgrade the charges. The case may be remanded or sent back to the municipal court.

The grand jury may also act in an investigative capacity and hear matters in which a criminal complaint has not yet been signed. The grand jury has the right to conduct investigations, call witnesses and subpoena documents. This is called a grand jury investigation and can lead to indictments. If, after the investigation is complete, the grand jury finds there is no evidence of wrongdoing, the jurors can vote that there is “no cause for further action.” The investigation is then closed.

A defendant can waive or give up his or her right to a grand jury hearing by admitting guilt or “pleading guilty” at the first court appearance or anytime afterwards.

It is important to remember that a grand jury indictment is not a conviction. The defendant is still considered innocent. The indictment is only a formal document accusing the defendant of committing a crime.

Arraignment on Indictment

If the grand jury votes a true bill, the defendant must go to the Superior Court, Criminal Division for an arraignment. This is similar to a first court appearance because the defendant is told about the crimes that he or she is accused of committing and is asked to plead guilty or not guilty. The judge makes sure the defendant has an attorney. Bail is determined or reviewed if the defendant was arrested earlier. A no-contact order can be made part of the bail conditions. This means that the defendant cannot have any contact with the victim. If the defendant was not arrested before the grand jury hearing, a warrant complaint is issued.

If the defendant does not appear in court for a proceeding, the judge can revoke bail and issue a warrant for the arrest of the defendant.

The judge also sets a date for a pre-trial conference or a plea disposition conference.

Trial

All trials for indictable offenses are held at the Superior Court, Criminal Division. Defendants charged with an indictable offense have a constitutional right to a trial by jury. This means that the case must be presented to a jury consisting of twelve people who decide the guilt or innocence of the defendant. The judge oversees the trial to make sure that all court rules are followed and there are no legal mistakes.

It is possible that the initial court date can be changed many times. This happens because the judge schedules several trials to begin the same day knowing that some cases end by a plea agreement and some cases are not ready for trial on the assigned date. The cases that are ready for trial on the assigned date are told when the trial will actually begin.

The Trial Process

Every trial starts with the principle that defendant is innocent until proven guilty. The assistant prosecutor, who serves on the side of the State, has to prove to the jury that the defendant is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. “Reasonable Doubt” is an honest and reasonable uncertainty as to the guilt of the defendant after hearing all the evidence. Even if a juror believes the defendant is guilty, but has some doubt about the evidence, then the juror must vote “not guilty.” At the beginning of the trial, the judge gives instructions to the jury. After the instructions to the jury by the judge, the assistant prosecutor and the defense attorney give an opening statement to the jury that tells what each wants to prove about the case.

After the opening statements, the State presents its case about why it believes the defendant is guilty. The assistant prosecutor calls witnesses to the stand to testify, including the victim. He or she may also present scientific evidence. The defense attorney has a chance to question or to cross-examine each of the State’s witnesses. Once the State makes its case and presents all of its evidence, the State rests or announces it is done.

At this time, the defense attorney can ask the judge to dismiss the charges against the defendant or “acquit the defendant” by saying the State did not show enough proof that the defendant could be guilty. The judge must then decide if the State presented enough proof to be considered by the jury. If the judge agrees with the defense attorney’s argument, the judge acquits the defendant and dismisses the jury. At this point the case is over. The defendant cannot be tried for this crime again.

Most of the time, however, the judge does not agree with the defense attorney’s request to dismiss. The defense attorney may present evidence and call witnesses to testify to the fact that the defendant is innocent. The defendant does not have to testify and the judge explains this to the jury. The assistant prosecutor has a chance to cross-examine the defense’s witnesses. When the defense attorney is done, he or she rests their case.

At this time, the assistant prosecutor is allowed to submit proof in rebuttal or to question specific items or claims made by the defense. After both the assistant prosecutor and the defense attorney have presented their cases, each reviews their cases to the jury in what is called the summation. The defense goes first and the assistant prosecutor goes second. Both review all of the evidence to support why each believes the defendant innocent or guilty.

After the summations, the judge instructs the jury about legal points they should think about in deciding the case. This is called the judge’s charge to the jury and includes general information about criminal procedure as well as information on the laws and issues that are important. The judge’s charge may also include a commentary on the evidence.

The jury then goes to another room to talk or deliberate about the case. All evidence goes with them. If during these deliberations the jury has a question about the evidence or someone’s testimony, the jury foreman or spokesperson writes a letter to the court. The question is answered if possible. The jury deliberates until it reaches a verdict or reports it cannot agree. A verdict is the decision of innocence or guilt to which all jurors agree. If the jury reaches a verdict, they come back to the courtroom where the foreman tells the judge what the jury has decided. Sometimes, the State or the defense wants to make sure that each juror agrees with the verdict. When this happens, the judge asks each juror how they voted.

The verdict must be unanimous. This means that if every member of the jury does not agree, there can be no verdict. The judge talks to the jury again to encourage them to come to a decision. The judge also tells the jurors not to change their minds just to reach a verdict. The jury then goes back to their deliberations. If they still cannot agree, then it is a “hung jury”; the judge declares a mistrial and the defendant may be tried again.

If there is a guilty plea or a guilty verdict when a case goes to trial, the judge sets a tentative date for sentencing. Before the sentencing, however, the Probation Department must complete a report called a pre-sentence investigation report (PSI).

Pre-Sentence Investigation Report (PSI)

The PSI is a confidential, written report that a judge uses to help him or her decide what sentence to give to the defendant. The report has a description of the defendant’s family, medical and criminal background; information about the crime; and other material important to deciding the sentence. The report also includes a statement from the victim about how the crime has affected his or her life and about any monies the victim lost or had to pay because of the crime.

 Sentencing  

On the day of sentencing, the defendant, the defense attorney, and the assistant prosecutor come before the judge in open court for the final determination of the sentence.

At this time, the defense attorney tells the court about any errors the defendant believes are in the PSI. The defense attorney also talks about issues called mitigating factors that may cause the judge to adjust the sentence. The assistant prosecutor tells the court about any reason why the penalty should not be reduced and lists any aggravating factors. The defendant and the victim are also allowed to speak to the court at this time.

The judge considers any new information along with all of the information in the PSI and the law. The judge weighs the aggravating and mitigating factors. He or she then announces the sentence and the reasons for giving that sentence.

Restitution

Restitution is money the defendant has to pay to the victim for stolen or damaged property, lost wages, medical and/or counseling costs. In New Jersey, restitution is mandatory. The judge must order the defendant to pay restitution as part of the penalty given at sentencing so long as the judge believes the defendant can pay the restitution. Restitution should also be one of the conditions the defendant must meet while on PTI or probation.

The court must hold a restitution hearing. At this hearing, the defendant is allowed to say whether or not he or she thinks the amount of restitution is correct. The defendant is allowed to tell the judge about his or her own money situation and request to make monthly or weekly payments.

By law, restitution cannot be used to pay the victim for “pain and suffering.” The amount of restitution ordered cannot exceed the losses claimed by the victim. The victim can take the defendant to the Civil Division of the Superior Court to sue for additional amounts of money.

Appeal

If the defendant is found guilty of an offense and is sentenced, he or she has the right to file an appeal with the Appellate Division of the Superior Court. The defendant can ask the appellate court to review all of the hearing and trial records to make sure that no legal errors were made. The defendant can also ask the appellate court to look at the investigative stage which led to his or her arrest. The defendant may even appeal the sentencing which took place after a plea bargain agreement and a non-jury trial.

The state however, cannot appeal a not guilty verdict or “acquittal.” The Constitution of New Jersey says that to do so would be “double jeopardy” or trying someone for the same crime twice. The state can appeal to the appellate court if the state believes that the sentence is not correct.

If the Appellate Division of the Superior Court finds no legal errors which led to a wrong conviction or sentencing, the defendant can appeal to the Supreme Court of New Jersey. Not every appeal filed with the Supreme Court is heard. Normally the Supreme Court only hears cases where there is some evidence that a person’s constitutional rights have been violated.

If the Supreme Court upholds or agrees with a decision of the lower court and finds that the defendant’s constitutional rights have not been violated, the defendant can appeal the case to the United States Federal Court system. To do this, the defendant files a petition or formal document with the U.S. District Court seeking a writ of habeas corpus relief. A habeas corpus relief means that the defendant is saying that he or she is being held in prison unfairly, against his or her federal constitutional rights. If the U.S. District Court finds that there is some merit to the defendant’s claim, the U.S. District Court usually gives the State the chance to retry the defendant in order to correct any errors that many have taken place. If the U.S. District Court agrees with the defendant, then the State must turn the defendant over to the court and the defendant is freed. If the U.S. District Court denies the request for relief, a defendant can appeal that decision to the U.S. Third Circuit Court of Appeals. After that, a defendant may appeal to the nation’s highest court, the U.S. Supreme Court, but very few cases are taken and heard by that court.

As shown above, the defendant has many chances to challenge his or her conviction and sentence by appealing to a higher court. An appeal to all the appellate courts can take years to complete.

Parole

Parole is the early release from prison of an offender or inmate under very close supervision. The goal of parole is to help the offender live as a productive member in society and is a privilege given to offenders who earn it. Parole is not a right.

An inmate becomes eligible to be considered for parole after serving a minimum number of years of the sentence or 85% of the court’s sentence. This minimum number is outlined in the law for each offense. An inmate or offender can also become eligible for early release from prison by following all of the rules of the prison and not getting into trouble and by working at a job while in prison. The inmate earns good time credits and work credits.

When an inmate becomes eligible for parole, the parole board schedules a hearing to look at the inmate’s progress. The parole board looks at the inmate’s record to see if he or she has broken prison rules; if he or she is participating in counseling; and if the inmate is working or taking classes. The parole board also looks at reports written by the prison psychiatrist, prison staff, the assistant prosecutor and the judge. The inmate must also have a parole plan which tells about the inmate’s plans after release, such as housing and employment. Finally, the parole board considers any information from the victim. The victim can come to the parole hearing and speak in person or write a letter telling how the crime has affected his or her life.

After the hearing, the parole board reviews all of this information to determine the likelihood that the inmate will not commit another crime. The parole board announces its decision to either allow the inmate out of prison on parole or deny the parole release and set a date when the inmate can be considered again. This date is called the future eligibility term (FET).

If the board believes the inmate is ready for parole, a parole release date is set and conditions of parole are outlined. The conditions include rules that are the same for all released inmates: living in an approved residence and reporting to the parole officer when required as well as special conditions for the individual inmate. Special conditions can include drug or alcohol rehabilitation, mental health counseling, community service, restitution and drug testing.

If a parolee (released inmate) does not meet all of the conditions of parole, then he or she is in violation of parole and can be returned to prison. Additionally, if the parolee commits another offense while on parole, he or she will be returned to prison immediately and will then have to serve all the time remaining in the original sentence.