Department of Corrections and Community Supervision

Frequently Asked Questions

Certificate of Relief | Restoration of Rights

What is Jenna's Law and how does that relate to the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS)?

When Governor Pataki signed into law the Sentencing Reform Act of 1998, commonly referred to as Jenna's Law, he eliminated parole release for all violent felony offenders (VFO's) in New York State. The Governor had previously eliminated parole release for second time VFO's when he signed the Sentencing Reform Act of 1995.

As a result of these laws, all violent felony offenders sentenced to state prison must now serve 6/7 of their court-imposed sentence before being released. There is no discretionary release for these individuals. After serving 6/7 of the sentence, the offender must then also begin serving a period of court-imposed post-release supervision of 1.5 to 5 years.

While serving the period of post-release supervision, the offender is under the jurisdiction of the DOCCS and is supervised in the community by a New York State Parole Officer.

What does the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision do to protect public safety?

The mission of the DOCCS is to "To promote public safety by preparing inmates for release and supervising parolees to the successful completion of their sentence."

Public safety and community protection are best ensured when offenders who are returning to the community are aided, assisted and supervised by a professional parole officer. Parole officers work to develop a supervision plan for each releasee. They also assess and evaluate the adequacy of each releasee's community adjustment and intervene when the releasee's behavior threatens that adjustment. The parole officer, in consultation with his or her supervisor, determines when and under what circumstances delinquency action is warranted. The parole officer works to ensure that individuals released from prison by order of the Board of Parole and by statute live and remain at liberty in the community without violating the law.

How does the Department supervise high-risk cases like sex offenders?

DOCCS has developed specialized units specifically for the supervision of sex offenders and other high-risk cases. These Special Offender Units are staffed by specially trained parole officers and operate throughout the State. Parole officers in these units make additional field contacts with the offenders and use surveillance devices such as electronic monitoring units to assist in the supervision effort. In addition, frequent contacts are made with law enforcement agencies, and in some instances, parole officers and police work together to supervise the case in the community.

How does an inmate get parole in New York State?

There are four ways by which inmates can be released from State prison to the community in New York State. They are: discretionary release to parole supervision, conditional release to parole supervision, release to a period of post-release supervision and completion of the term of incarceration to its maximum expiration date. The first three involve supervision by a Parole Officer; the fourth does not. Inmates are eligible for Conditional Release after completing two-thirds of their court-imposed maximum sentence and are statutorily granted conditional release to community supervision despite having been denied discretionary release by the Parole Board.

The Sentencing Reform Act of 1995 also allows judges to sentence directly to parole supervision certain non-violent second-felony drug and property offenders. A judicially sentenced offender must spend his/her first 90 days of supervision at the Willard Drug Treatment Campus. Willard DTC is a drug treatment center operated by the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision and licensed by the New York State Division of Alcohol and Substance Abuse Services.

Who is the Board of Parole, and how often do they meet?

The Board of Parole is a 19-member body whose members are appointed by the Governor and confirmed by the Senate to serve six-year terms. The primary role of the Parole Board is to decide which of the inmates serving indeterminate terms of imprisonment in New York State correctional facilities should be granted discretionary release to the community. The Board has been vested with the authority to impose whatever conditions it deems appropriate for a particular offender.

I am a victim of a crime. How can I make my views known to the Parole Board?

New York State Law and the rules and regulations of the Board of Parole provide for victim input into the parole process. Any individual may send a confidential written statement to the Board of Parole with respect to any inmate. The confidential written statement will be submitted to the Board at the time of the inmate's appearance for release consideration. Certain crime victims may also request an in-person interview with a Board member or they may wish to submit an audio or videotape message to the Parole Board prior to an inmate's appearance.

For additional information, or to register with the Department's Victim Impact Unit, citizens may call 1-800-639-2650 and ask to speak with a victim representative.

How can I talk to a parole officer about a person on parole?

Citizens can utilize this website by clicking on "Parolee Lookup" to find out the area office location, Parole Officer and phone number of the supervision bureau for cases released to parole supervision.

How does the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision supervise parolees?

The Division currently supervises 45,000 parolees in New York State. The supervision process begins with a discharge plan developed by Parole staff working within a state correctional facility even before the inmate's release from prison. The discharge plan forms the foundation for the supervision plan that is followed by a field parole officer after release.

Field parole officers in the community visit with releasees at their residence, meet with them regularly at scheduled office visits, and make unannounced visits to the releasee's work or program location. Parole officers also conduct random drug tests of releasees in the community. In addition, the field parole officer assists the releasee in obtaining vocational or rehabilitative services.

What happens when an offender violates his parole?

When a parole officer determines that an individual released to parole supervision may have violated the conditions of release, either by committing a new crime or failing to adhere to the conditions of release, the Parole Board's regulations provide for the issuing of a detainer warrant. If a warrant is issued, the releasee will be arrested and detained in a local jail awaiting the outcome of a parole violation hearing.

If the charges alleging a violation of parole are not sustained at the violation hearing, the warrant will be lifted and the releasee restored to supervision. If the violation charges are sustained, the releasee may be ordered returned to state prison for a duration of time to be determined by the Board of Parole, or referred to an alternative treatment facility - such as the Willard Drug Treatment Campus.

From what licenses and employment are offenders barred?

Legal bars to licenses and employment are contained in various laws enacted by the State Legislature. Some examples include employment as a security guard, private investigator, insurance broker and many local civil service positions, as well as licenses to sell liquor wholesale or retail, and licenses for real estate brokers and notary publics. This is not a complete list.

How may mandatory disabilities be removed?

The Parole Board, in its discretion, may issue a Certificate of Relief from Disabilities or Certificate of Good Conduct. These two certificates have different eligibility criteria, and neither is issued prior to release from incarceration. A certificate may remove mandatory disabilities in general or only those specifically indicated by the Board of Parole. If either kind of certificate is issued only for specific disabilities, the Board may issue a supplementary certificate granting relief from additional disabilities.

Who is eligible for a Certificate of Relief?

By law, you are eligible for a Certificate of Relief if you have not been convicted of more than one felony. For this purpose, two or more felony convictions stemming from the same indictment count as one felony. Two or more convictions stemming from two or more separate indictments filed in the same court, prior to conviction under any of them, also count as one felony.

The Board of Parole may also issue you a Certificate of Relief if you are an eligible offender who has been convicted in another jurisdiction and who now lives in New York State.

A Certificate of Relief may be issued upon an eligible individual's release from a correctional facility or at any time thereafter.

What effect does a Certificate of Relief have on my status?

A Certificate of Relief may remove any mandatory legal bar or disability imposed as a result of conviction of the crime or crimes specified in the certificate. The Certificate of Relief does not, however, enable you to retain or become eligible for public office. Note that removing mandatory legal bars restores your right to apply and be considered for employment or license, but does not guarantee it will be granted.

A Certificate of Relief issued to you upon release or once you are on parole supervision is a temporary certificate. This certificate becomes permanent when you are discharged from supervision. While it is temporary, the certificate may be revoked by action of the Board of Parole.

Who is eligible to apply for a Certificate of Good Conduct?

In contrast to the Certificate of Relief, you are eligible for the Certificate of Good Conduct even if you have been convicted of more than one felony. You do not become eligible for a Certificate of Good Conduct, however, until a minimum period of time has elapsed from the date of your unrevoked release from custody by parole or from the date your sentence ended.

In cases in which the most serious conviction is a misdemeanor, there must be at least one year of satisfactory community adjustment before a Certificate of Good Conduct can be considered. In cases in which the most serious conviction is a C, D or E felony, you must wait at least three years. In cases in which the most serious conviction is an A or B felony, you must wait at least five years.

What effect does a Certificate of Good Conduct have on my status?

A Certificate of Good Conduct has the same effect as the Certificate of Relief. In addition, the Certificate of Good Conduct may restore your right to seek public office. The certificate may remove all legal bars or disabilities or remove only specific bars or disabilities.

The Certificate of Good Conduct issued to you while under parole supervision is a temporary certificate. The certificate will become permanent upon discharge from supervision.

How are certificate applications submitted?

If you have not completed your sentence, you cannot apply directly for a Certificate of Relief or a Certificate of Good Conduct. The application is submitted to the Board of Parole by staff. If you are anticipating release consideration or are under parole supervision, you should discuss your desire to apply for a Certificate with your Parole Officer.

If you have completed your sentence, you may apply directly to the Certificate Review Unit for Certificates of Relief or Good Conduct. If you were convicted in another state or by a federal court, you may apply directly upon release from custody to the Certificate Review Unit.

How are voting rights restored?

If you have been convicted of a felony, you lose the right to vote. This right is automatically restored when you complete your maximum sentence or are discharged by the Board of Parole. If you have been issued a Certificate of Relief from Disabilities or a Certificate of Good Conduct while on parole, you may register to vote.

Where may I obtain more information about Certificates of Relief and Good Conduct, and about licensing and employment?

Article 23 of the Correctional Law deals with Certificates of Relief from Disabilities and Certificates of Good Conduct. Article 23A of the Correction Law deals with licenses and employment of persons convicted of criminal offenses. Consult your Parole Officer about specific questions you may have.

Download an application for a Certificate of Relief from Disabilities or Good Conduct (PDF 48 kb).