By Jedidiah McKeehan

You may be watching the news, or reading an article online about a high-profile criminal case and the criminal defendant is found guilty and sentenced to a long prison sentence.

What the articles and stories usually do not discuss is how much of that sentence the defendant will actually have to spend in prison.  Contrary to popular belief, someone convicted of a crime almost never serves the entirety of their sentence in prison.

For example, if someone is convicted of a crime and they are sentenced to serve 10 years in prison, if they do not have much in the way of criminal history, they will become parole eligible after they have served 30% of their sentence in prison.

Yes, this may come as a surprise to you, but the person who has been sentenced to a 10-year prison sentence may be out on the streets living their life after only 3 years behind bars.  How is this possible?  Well, first off, let me tell you that someone is not guaranteed parole at any point while they are in prison.  They are only guaranteed the ability to become parole eligible after they have served 30% of their sentence.  In practice, most prisoners are not given parole at their first hearing, and there is no guarantee that they will ever be given parole.  If you have seen the movie Shawshank Redemption then you may have seen Morgan Freeman’s character go before the parole board multiple times over the course of the movie before he is released on parole.

If someone is given parole that means that they are allowed to leave prison early and serve the remainder of their sentence under the supervision of a parole officer.

How is parole different from probation?  Individuals are almost always given probation instead of going to prison, while parole is given after someone has already served some amount of time in prison.

Probation and parole operate very similarly in that the person must comply with very strict rules in regard to their conduct, living situation, and behavior.  If they violate their parole, then there is a very real chance that they will be sent back to prison to serve the remainder of their sentence.


Jedidiah McKeehan is an attorney practicing in Knox County and surrounding counties.  He works in many areas, including criminal, personal injury, landlord-tenant, probate, and estate planning. Visit for more information about this legal issue and other legal issues.