In Arizona, inmates have parole eligibility if they have served enough of their prison sentence and did not commit a crime that makes them ineligible. As they serve time under good behavior, inmates accumulate earned release credits. Once they accumulate enough credits, they can be released on parole.
1. Who is eligible for parole?
Inmates who have been convicted for a crime other than murder in the state of Arizona and who are serving a prison sentence can be eligible for parole. First, they have to become eligible to earn release credits. Then, they have to accumulate these earned release credits. When the number of earned release credits equals the remaining days in the prison sentence, the inmate can be released on parole.
Arizona law classifies all inmates into 2 categories:
- those who are eligible to earn release credits, and
- those who are not eligible to earn release credits.1
When they are first incarcerated to serve a sentence in the Arizona Department of Corrections, all inmates are not eligible to earn release credits.2
Inmates can get reclassified and become eligible to earn release credits according to rules created by the director of the state Department of Corrections. Those rules have to be based on the inmate’s prison record and good behavior, including:
- work performance,
- compliance with the rules of the Department while in custody,
- progress in any appropriate education, training, or treatment programs, and
- performance of any assignments that require trust.3
Details about these rules for reclassification must be distributed to each inmate.4
Inmates who are eligible to earn release credits, but who are facing a potential reclassification and could become ineligible to earn them, are entitled to a hearing in front of the Arizona Board of Executive Clemency.5
Once released on parole, parolees can be sent back to prison if they violate a term of their release that subjects their parole to revocation.
If the parolee complies with all of the Arizona rules of parole, they can apply for an absolute discharge and be finally removed from the criminal justice system. A criminal defense attorney from a local law firm can help with this step, as well.
2. How do inmates earn release credits?
Inmates in Arizona’s prisons who are eligible to earn release credits get them every day they are incarcerated in prison or in county jail.6
Inmates get 3 days of earned release credits for every 7 days served in confinement if the inmate:
- was sentenced for committing one of the following crimes:
- possession or use of marijuana,
- possession or use of a dangerous drug,
- possession or use of a narcotic drug, or
- possession of drug paraphernalia,
- successfully completes a drug treatment program or other major self-improvement program run by the Department of Corrections during their sentence, and
- does not have a prior felony conviction or was sentenced as a serious offender.7
All other inmates eligible to accumulate earned release credits get 1 day of earned release for every 6 days in confinement.8
3. Can release credits be lost?
Yes, inmates who became eligible to earn release credits, but who then got reclassified to become ineligible, again, may have their earned release credits forfeited.9
Inmates can also lose 5 days of earned release credits for:
- making a claim without substantial justification,
- unreasonably delaying a proceeding,
- presenting false information to a court,
- making a claim solely to harass someone, or
- testing positive for a prohibited drug.10
4. How many credits are necessary to be released on parole?
When the total number of days that an inmate has served in prison and the number of days of release credits earned by the inmate equal the sentence imposed by the court, the inmate will be released on parole and into community supervision. This is the inmate’s earned release credit date.11
The formula for determining the earned release credit date is:
The number of days actually served in confinement + Number of days of earned release credits = Number of days in the term of imprisonment imposed by the court at the sentencing hearing.
For example: Jack is convicted for possession of cocaine and sentenced to 10 months, or 304 days, in prison. This is Jack’s first criminal conviction, and he completes a drug treatment program while in jail, so he earns 3 days of earned release credits for every 7 days he serves. However, he only becomes eligible to earn release credits after 3 months, or 90 days, in prison. This means that Jack will earn 71.3 days of release credits. He can be released on parole on day 232 of his sentence, when his time served plus his release credits equal his prison term.
Inmates may also be eligible for work furlough release before they can be released on parole.
5. Is anyone not eligible?
Yes, Arizona state law makes the following inmates ineligible for release on parole:
- dangerous psychiatric offenders,12
- inmates deemed to be sexually violent,13
- inmates who refuse to sign and agree to the rules of parole or probation or community supervision,14
- inmates serving any but the last of their consecutive sentences,15and
- inmates in prison for a Class 1 felony like first-degree murder.
Dangerous psychiatric offenders are those who are in a psychiatric unit for evaluation and treatment, and who carry a high risk for violence.16
Defendants convicted of murder have not been eligible for parole since 1993. That was when the Arizona legislature passed the Truth in Sentencing law. This law changed the possible sentences from death, natural life, or “life sentence with possibility of parole” to “life sentence with the possibility of release.” The new sentence will only release the inmate if the Arizona governor pardons them or issues a commutation of the sentence.17
According to the Arizona Supreme Court, this change in the law does not apply to murder convictions that happened in 1993 or earlier.18
6. What about inmates incarcerated since 1993 or before?
Inmates who were convicted for felony offenses in 1993 or before still fall under the old parole statutes in Arizona.19These inmates accumulate earned release credits at different rates.
Once eligible to accumulate release credits, inmates receive 1 day for every 2 days served if they were sentenced for a first criminal offense and their conviction was not:
- one that carried the death penalty or life in prison, or
- for a dangerous offense.20
They also receive 1 day of released credit for every 2 days served if sentenced for:
- a first-time dangerous crime of a Class 4 felony, Class 5 felony, or Class 6 felony,
- a second felony-level offense, or
- any crime that forbids the inmate’s release until he or she has served at least one-half of their sentence.21
Unless they fall into one of the categories, above, inmates will receive 1 day of release credits for every 3 days served if sentenced:
- as a repetitive offender,
- for a dangerous offense,
- as a serious, violent, or aggravated offender,
- for an offense that was committed while on release from confinement, or
- for any crime that forbids the inmate’s release until he or she has served at least two-thirds of their sentence.22
- ARS 41-1604.06(A).
- ARS 41-1604.06(B).
- ARS 41-1604.06(C).
- ARS 41-1604.07(A).
- ARS 41-1604.07(B)(1).
- ARS 41-1604.07(B)(2).
- ARS 41-1604.07(D).
- ARS 41-1604.07(L).
- ARS 41-1604.07(E).
- ARS 41-1604.09(A).
- ARS 41-1604.07(E).
- ARS 41-1604.07(I).
- ARS 41-1604.07(J).
- ARS 41-1604.09(K).
- Arizona Senate Bill 1049, Chapter 255, 1993 laws and Michael Kiefer, “Hundreds of People Were Sentenced to Life With Change of Parole. Just One Problem: It Doesn’t Exist,” Arizona Republic (March 19, 2017).
- Chaparro v. Shinn, 248 Ariz. 138 (2020).
- ARS 41-1604.10(G).
- ARS 41-1604.10(A)(1).
- ARS 41-1604.10(A)(2).
- ARS 41-1604.10(A)(3).