Setting Parole Conditions to Achieve Public Safety

Background and Context

Paroling authorities have substantial discretion in determining:

A Framework for Evidence-Based Decision Making in Local Criminal Justice Systems ("the Framework") has been designed with the support of the National Institute of Corrections (NIC) to advance constructive change in criminal justice decision making. The Framework describes key criminal justice decisions, evidence-based knowledge about effective justice practices, and practical local level strategies for applying risk and harm reduction principles and techniques.

One of the central principles of the Framework is that every interaction within the criminal justice system offers an opportunity to contribute to harm reduction. Research demonstrates that professionals' interactions with offenders can have a significant positive impact on offenders' behavior. Parallel research demonstrates that professionals' positive interactions with victims can promote a sense of satisfaction and fairness.  For the criminal justice system to take advantage of its interaction potential, criminal justice system professionals must understand their individual potential to positively influence offender behavior; and must have the knowledge and skills that will enable them to maximize these opportunities. 

For more information about this research, visit

These decisions are made based partially, at least, upon a review of case information in an offender's file and input from institutional staff.  However, for many Boards, another key source of information is the in-person hearing or interview conducted by Board members or hearing examiners.  An interviewer typically has considerable discretion in fashioning his or her approach to these interviews, and the purposes of these sessions can vary widely.  Goals for parole interviews have traditionally included gathering further information about the offender and the offense itself, verifying the accuracy of existing information, understanding the impact of the crime on the victim, reviewing the offender's community reentry plan, and assessing the offender's involvement in programming while incarcerated, among other issues.  All of this information is typically sought in order to better inform decisionmakers and equip them to make more sound parole decisions.

As the pendulum of correctional interventions has swung from a primary concern for just punishment and incapacitation to more of a concern for changing offender behavior and reducing their risk of committing crime in the future, parole decisionmakers are increasingly exploring how their decisionmaking and interactions with offenders can be shaped by the lessons emerging from research about how to effect change.  A growing body of research is helping to shape correctional practice.  Two important insights from the research are relevant to the question of how to conduct a parole hearing in order to have the most impact upon community safety.  First, there is overwhelming evidence that offenders can and do change, and that intrinsic motivation, or their own desire to change, is a critical element for successful change (e.g., see Crime and Justice Institute, 2004).  Second, there is a growing body of research that tells us that there are proven techniques or ways of interacting with individuals that can enhance an individuals' motivation to change (e.g., see Carter, 2011).  Those techniques, known collectively as Motivational Interviewing, are ones that have been used in settings such as interactions between patients and health care providers and have been demonstrated to contribute to marked behavior change.  

As a result of this growing research and experience, many in the parole community are coming to view the parole interview not only as a way to gather information, but also as an opportunity to influence the parole candidate toward a greater understanding of his or her own behavior and its consequences, to enhance willingness to participate in risk-reduction programming while incarcerated and when under community supervision, and to encourage internal motivation to change.  Given this shift, based on the research that provides evidence that internal offender motivation to change is a key factor in actually changing behavior, and that there are ways of interacting with offenders that can enhance motivation, this Action Guide has been developed to explore how Motivational Interviewing can be adapted to and effectively be used in the parole hearing/interview setting.

< Goals of this Guide, and How to Use It

Understanding the Evidence and its
Implications for Using the Parole
Interview to Encourage Offender
Motivation to Change