Sentencing, Incarceration & Parole of Offenders

Topics covered

  • California’s Sentencing Laws
  • What happens after sentencing?
  • What happens when an inmate is on condemned status?
  • What happens to the offender while in the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation?
  • Mentally Disordered Offenders & Sexually Violent Predators
  • What Happens When an offender is Released?
  • What is Medical Parole?
  • What is Elderly Parole?
  • What is Youth Offender Parole?
  • What are conditions of parole?
  • What is the process for offenders receiving parole hearings?
  • What is the Alternative Custody Program?
  • What is the International Prisoner Transfer Treaty Program?
  • How do I track the status of an offender that is pending deportation?


Most offenders are sentenced to California state prison for a set amount of time under the Determinate Sentencing Law (DSL). Determinate sentencing covers sentencing guidelines, mandatory minimum sentences, and enhanced sentences for certain crimes. Sentencing guidelines allow judges to consider the individual circumstances of the case when determining a sentence, whereas mandatory minimum and enhanced-sentence statutes leave little or no discretion to judges in setting the terms of a sentence.

Offenders sentenced to determinate sentences are sentenced to a specific amount of time, such as seven years. Once the offender serves the specific time the offender is released to either parole or probation supervisor. Offenders serving determinate sentences may become eligible for a parole suitability hearing prior to their release date if they meet certain criteria.

Most other offenders are sentenced under the Indeterminate Sentencing Law (ISL) and will serve a term of life with possibility of parole. Offenders sentenced to a life term with the possibility of parole cannot be released on parole until the BPH determines that they are ready to be returned to society.

Click here for information on the parole proceeding process


Once sentenced to CDCR, the offender is sent to a reception center for processing and transfer to an institution. Processing includes computing a classification score based on such factors as length of sentence, stability, education, employment, and behavior during a prior incarceration.

The classification score determines the type of facility where the offender will be housed. This score may change over time based on individual behavior and specific case factors. Because of this change, an offender may be transferred to a different institution.


Questions regarding capital punishment and condemned inmates


Education and vocational programs are available to offenders. An offender may obtain a GED or a certificate of completion. These programs also qualify an offender for work time credits and continued participation is dependent on the offender’s good behavior.


Click here for information regarding Offenders with a Mental Health Disorder (OMHD)

Click here for information regarding Sexually Violent Predators (SVP)


When an offender has completed his/her sentence, he/she is released to either state supervised parole or county-level supervision also known as post-release community supervision. The type of supervision is determined by the California Penal Code. The more serious and violent offenders and high-risk sex offenders are released to state parole and the non-serious, non-violent, and non-sex offenders are released to county-level supervision.

Currently, the law requires that parolees be returned to the county that was the last legal residence of the offender prior to his or her incarceration. A parolee may be returned to another county if that would be in the best interests of the public. DAPO carefully reviews each case and makes such decisions on an individual basis.

Offenders released from prison to state supervised parole are assigned a Parole Agent in the community where the offender will be living. CDCR parole offices are located throughout California. CDCR requires all parolees to follow conditions of parole, which may include such special conditions as no contact with the victim or victim’s family or that the parolee may not be allowed within 35 miles of the victim’s actual residence if convicted of certain violent felonies. Victims or witnesses may contact OVSRS or fill out a CDCR 1707 to request special conditions of parole, which will be considered by DAPO prior to the offender’s release.

Offenders released from prison to county-level supervision will be supervised by a local law enforcement agency. CDCR no longer has jurisdiction over any person who is released from prison to county-level supervision.

Visit the Post-Release Community Supervision webpage for more information.


Penal Code Section 3550 requires that any prisoner who the head physician for the institution where the prisoner is located determines, as provided, is permanently medically incapacitated with a medical condition that renders the prisoner permanently unable to perform activities of basic daily living, and results in the prisoner requiring 24-hour care, and that incapacitation did not exist at the time of sentencing, shall be granted medical parole, if the Board of Parole Hearings determines that the conditions under which the prisoner would be released would not reasonably pose a threat to public safety. If granted medical parole, the offender would be assigned a Parole Agent, and if their condition improves, they can be returned to custody. The provisions of medical parole do not apply to any prisoner sentenced to death or life in prison without possibility of parole.

Victims or victim next-of-kin who are registered to receive notification will receive information regarding the date and location of the hearing, and have the right to attend and participate in the medical parole hearing process. Note: In most cases, the offender will not be present for this hearing.

Click here for more Information about medical parole.


On February 10, 2014, the Three Judge Panel in the Plata/Coleman class action lawsuit ordered CDCR to finalize and implement a new parole process whereby elderly offenders will be referred to the Board of Parole Hearings (board) to determine suitability for parole. The procedures for the new Elderly Parole Program will affect parole suitability hearings scheduled on or after October 1, 2014.

Scheduling of Hearings:

Eligible offenders who are not currently in the board’s hearing cycle (i.e., those who are serving a determinate term or serving an indeterminate term and have not yet had their initial parole suitability hearing), will be referred by CDCR to the board and scheduled for an initial suitability hearing.

Eligible offenders who are currently in the board’s hearing cycle (i.e., those who have already had their initial suitability hearing or will have it before October 1, 2014) will be considered for a new hearing consistent with the California Supreme Court’s decision in In re Vicks, meaning the board will initially focus its resources on those offenders who are most likely to be found suitable for parole. This will be accomplished through administrative review of the offender’s record by the board for possible advancement of the offender’s next hearing date, if the board finds a reasonable likelihood that consideration of the public and victim’s safety does not require the additional period of incarceration of the offender. Eligible offenders may also continue to petition to advance their next hearing pursuant to the provisions of Penal Code section 3041.5(d).

Click here for more information about elderly parole.


The Board of Parole Hearings (BPH) reviews the parole suitability for any prisoner who was under 26 years of age at the time of his or her controlling offense. In addition, any offender who was sentenced to life without the possibility of parole, and was under 18 years of age at the time of his or her controlling offense, will also be scheduled for youth offender parole hearings. The Board is required to give “great weight” to the diminished responsibility of juveniles as compared to adults. This will establish hearings for qualified offenders who are sentenced with an indeterminate sentence or a determinate sentence.

Click here for more information about youth offender parole.


All offenders who are released to the community for a period of parole supervision have Conditions of Parole imposed upon release. Additionally, some offenders have added special conditions of parole, which are unique to each person. Conditions of parole and special conditions of parole are simply defined as:

  • Conditions of Parole – Written rules that you have to follow.
  • Special Conditions – Added written rules that help your chances of finishing parole. Simply stated, the standard conditions of parole are outlined below.
  • The release date and how long the parolee may be on parole.
  • Advisement that the parolee, their residence, and possessions can be searched at any time of the day or night, with or without a warrant, and with or without a reason. This can be done by a parole agent or police officer.
  • By signing the parole conditions, the parolee waives extradition if they are found out of state.
  • The parolee’s obligation to always tell their parole agent where they live and work.
  • The parolee’s obligation to report upon release from prison or jail.
  • The parolee’s obligation to tell their parole agent about a new address before they move.
  • The parolee’s obligation to tell their parole agent, within three days, if they get a new job.
  • The parolee’s obligation to report to their parole agent when told to report or a warrant can be issued for their arrest.
  • The parolee’s obligation to follow their parole agent’s instructions.
  • The parolee’s obligation to ask their parole agent if it is OK to travel more 50 miles from their residence, and receive approval before they travel.
  • The parolee’s obligations to receive a travel pass before they leave the county for more than two days.
  • The parolee’s obligations to receive a travel pass before they can leave the State.
  • The parolee’s obligation to obey ALL laws.
  • The parolee’s obligation to tell their parole agent immediately if they get arrested or get a ticket.
  • An advisement that if a parolee breaks the law, they can be sent back to prison even if they do not have any new criminal charges.
  • The parolee’s obligation to not be around guns, or things that look like a real gun, bullets, or any other weapons.
  • The parolee’s obligation to not have a knife with a blade longer than two inches except a kitchen knife. Kitchen knives must be kept in your kitchen.
  • Knives you use for work are also allowed if approved by the parole agent tells, but they can only be carried while at work or going to and from work. The parolee must possess a note from the parole agent approving this, and it must be carried at all times.
  • You must not own, use, or have access to any weapon that is 1) prohibited by the California Penal Code.


A parole hearing is a hearing to determine whether an offender is suitable for release to parole supervision. Parole hearings are not to decide guilt or innocence. The BPH accepts as fact the guilty verdict imposed by the courts. The purpose of a parole hearing is to determine if or when an offender can be returned to society. Under normal circumstances, the panel, or the Board, shall set a release date unless it determines that the gravity of the crime (offense), or the timing and gravity of current or past convictions, requires a lengthier period of incarceration to ensure public safety. The offender being scheduled for a parole hearing is no indication of the offender’s suitability for release from prison. Whether offenders are found suitable for parole is a judgment of the BPH hearing panel. These offenders are have the possibility of parole, not the assurance of it.

Click here for more information on the parole process.


Authority to approve transfers of foreign citizen offenders to their native countries to serve the remainder of their prison terms is delegated to the Executive Officer of the Board of Parole Hearings by the Governor under the provisions of Government Code section 12012.1.

Click here for more information on the program.


Offender’s that have been transferred into the custody of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) will be held in a Federal holding facility pending deportation. Victims can request notification of the offender’s status by submitting the form to the ICE Victim Notification Program. For more information visit the ICE website.