Parole, the Parole Board Process and Max Weber’s Typology of Law

Parole is the bridge between an offender being incarcerated and returning in to the community. It is a conditional release, which allows some offenders to serve the remaining time of their sentence in the community. Parole gives offenders the opportunity under supervision and assistance from a parole officer to become a member of the community again. The Parole Board gives the offender conditions of their conditional release and if they are not met the parole board has the right to revoke parole and the offender returns to prison.

Most offenders are serving a fixed length sentence and will eventually be released back into the community. “Parole helps offenders re-integrate into the community through a gradual, controlled and supported release with conditions (Parole Board of Canada, 2011).” There are two types of parole: day parole and full parole; day parole allows the offender out of jail during certain times of the day to participate in community based activities preparing them for full parole, which is where the offender serves part of their remaining sentence in the community under supervision and conditions preparing them for their release into the community without supervision.

Parole Board members make parole decisions either via a hearing, which is face to face, or a file review. Board members consider all information in making the decision to grant or deny parole. They consider information from “police, courts, crown, attorneys, mental health professionals, correctional authorities, private agencies and victims (Parole Board of Canada, 2011).” Public safety is the primary consideration in all-conditional release decisions. Offenders must apply for parole otherwise after a specific amount of time a parole review will automatically be scheduled.

On the day of the hearing the offender is lead into the hearing room by their parole officer. Their parole officer talks about the case and their recommendations about the offender to the parole board. The parole board may ask questions to help them make their decision as well as information from the people stated above. Victims may attend the meeting as well as the public. Victims may be allowed to give a victim impact statement, including how the crime has affected them and changed their life.

If an offender is denied parole they have 60 days to appeal the decision by sending a notice in writing to the Appeal Parole Board. If this is unsuccessful an offender must wait 18 months if serving a sentence of less than 7 years or wait 24 months if serving a sentence 7 years or more before they can reapply for parole.

Sociologist Max Webber created a theory of how society is made up of social relations or human interactions. Weber states the probability that specific commands will be obeyed by a given group of people, as not everyone obeys the rules. The same goes for offenders, every offender will react differently to parole. This if partly why some offenders may be given day parole verse full parole right away, as parole officers may want to see how they reintegrate, act in the community and if they are obeying their conditions of parole during activities in the community.

Weber has four basic categories of legal thought: substantively irrational, substantively rational, formally irrational and formally rational; which describes how a process or a community operates. I think the parole board fits mainly into substantively irrational and a bit into substantively rational as well. Parole only fits into substantively rational, as there is some predictability in the outcomes of decisions in like cases. However some mitigation and aggravation factors like victim impact statements may changes the offenders outcome of parole making it more substantively irrational as it would be hard to predict the outcome of parole board members decisions. Victim impact statements may hit a particular board member differently than the next depending on his or her past experiences. Each offender is granted or denied parole based on their case, statements from people listed above and the parole boards view if the offender opposes harm to people in the community or not, making it hard for there to be consistency between like cases all the time.

Weber talks about the bureaucracy that the parole board falls into, as it is a formal hierarchical structure and is the management by rules, which can be learned. Offenders must learn and know their conditions of their parole and follow them. The parole board and their parole officer hold all the power into the decision making if they are ready or not for parole. Including if parole should be revoked.

The parole conditions are similar to Weber’s contracts as it is a voluntary agreement of rules and obligations an offender must follow. If an offender breaks the agreement then the parole is revoked and the offender is sent back to jail, as they broke their “contract” of parole.

There are many ways to approach and understand the law according to Weber. Also there are many ways to interpret the laws surrounding parole and the conditional release of offenders. Parole board members have guidelines to follow to decide if the offender should be granted parole; however at the end of the day the parole board members make the decision based on the parole hearing and information from other people confirming again how parole is substantively irrational and the outcomes are sometimes hard to predict.

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One response to “Parole, the Parole Board Process and Max Weber’s Typology of Law

  1. Generally, this is a detailed and effective analysis. You do a good job of applying different aspects of Weber’s theory to the practices of the parole board.

    Question: Do you see evidence of an increasing ‘rationalization’ in the Canadian parole process? That is, are there forces pushing the process away from substantive rationality and towards formal rationality?

    Also, where do judicial determinations of parole eligibility fit in? Judges have the power to modify the standard eligibility framework on a case-by-case basis.