Weber’s Typology of law and the Parole Board Process

The process of decision making when it comes to the parole board is focused on the safety of the community. The parole board “contributes to the protection of society by facilitating, as appropriate, the timely reintegration of offenders as law abiding citizens” (PBC Policy Manual, 2014). The process is a bridge between the time in an institution and the return to the community. Obtaining parole does not mean that the offender is simply free, there are four different types of parole, temporary release, day parole, full parole and statutory release. Each of these comes with their own sets of conditions.

Offenders must apply for parole by application through their parole officer. However, by law, after a specific amount of time, full parole review will automatically be scheduled. The day of a parole hearing, the offender is led into the hearing room by their parole officer who talks about the specific case and their recommendations. Victims of the offender may observe the hearing and could possibly present a victim statement. The parole board may ask other questions to guide them to their decision and then they discuss in private. The board considers all the information included in the case from police reports to mental health professionals. They must also consider the risk of reoffending and the risk to the community. After coming to a decision it is presented to the offender along with reasons why they made the decision as well as special conditions if parole is granted. If the offender is denied parole, they can appeal by sending a notice in writing to the Appeal division of parole board in Ottawa within two months of the original decision. If unsuccessful, they must wait until their next eligible time for a parole hearing.

Sociologist Max Weber created a theory that connects the individual with the social structure of society. He says that making law legitimate includes different forms of authority that apply to different societies. Not everyone responds the same to one type of authority. In the same way, not every offender will respond to parole in the same way. Different approaches then must be used in the form of the different types of parole. Weber has four basic categories of legal thought which describe how a process or a society operates at a given time. The parole board process fits into the category of substantively irrational. While the decision making process follows specific procedures in allowing parole, each situation, or offender determines the outcome. While some cases may be similar, the board “makes no effort to link decisions to general percepts” (Pavlich, 2011). It is difficult to predict the outcome of each parole hearing due to mitigating and aggravating factors that could make two similar offender cases have completely different outcomes.

Weber also states that the idea of power implies that a specific “command will be obeyed” (Pavlich, 2011) and that when power and different forms of authority are combined “specific commands will be obeyed by a given group of people” (Pavlich, 2011). The group of people in this case is the offenders hoping to make their way back into society by following rules put forth by the parole board, who in this case, hold all the power. Specifically, the parole decision making process falls under a bureaucratic type of authority. This involves such things as hierarchical offices and official duties all stated in policies put forth by the government.

According to Weber there are “many ways to approach and understand the law” (Pavlich, 2011). There are also many ways to interpret the laws governing the release of offenders to parole. The guidelines which help board members decide whether to reintegrate offenders within society are subject to their discretion and interpretation of how the offender has met such goals. Weber includes in his category of substantively irrational that decisions are made with no effort to maintain consistency, and this is the same way in which decisions are made within the process of parole.

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One response to “Weber’s Typology of law and the Parole Board Process

  1. Your description of the parole process is succinct and effective.

    The parole process does resemble a substantively irrational legal form, though there is enough consistency between like cases that the process is often predictable. It would be helpful to elaborate on how the process resembles a substantively irrational form. How do victim impact statements factor into this?

    Your remarks on the bureaucratic nature of the process are also interesting (and I would welcome some expanded comments). It is worthwhile to note that many legal or quasi-legal aspects of the correctional process – classification, the development of a correctional plan – are highly bureaucratic and actuarial.

    I look forward to your next post!