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Safety Planning

Safety When an Abuser Gets Out of Jail

March 4, 2021

No one deserves to be abused. If you are reading this page, it is likely that the abuser was arrested for harming you. Unfortunately, the risk of danger does not always end after the abuser has served his/her sentence. You may still need to take steps to keep yourself safe once the abuser gets out of jail or prison. This section discusses some safety tips so that you can begin your planning. You may also want to speak with an advocate at a local domestic violence program for other safety ideas. You can find local programs on our Advocates and Shelters page.

Why would an abuser be released from jail or prison?

Knowing if the abuser is still incarcerated and when s/he is scheduled to be released is an important part of staying safe. After the abuser is arrested, there are a few different reasons why the abuser can be released from custody.

  1. If the abuser is being held in jail while the charges are pending, s/he can be released if s/he:
    1. has posted bail or bond;
    2. has been arraigned and “released on his/her own recognizance,” which means without having to pay bail or bond;
    3. a plea agreement has been reached before a trial is held, where the outcome is that the abuser is placed on probation, gets a suspended sentence, or there is some other outcome rather than being sentenced to jail or prison time; or
    4. the charges have been dropped.
  2. If the abuser is in jail or prison after having been convicted of a crime, s/he can be released if s/he:
    1. completes his/her sentence;
    2. is released on parole or probation; or
    3. has appealed the conviction to a higher court and the conviction is reversed or overturned.

How can I stay informed about the abuser’s incarceration status?

In a few states, there is a requirement that the authorities notify the victim when they are releasing an abuser from custody. In most states though, there is no requirement to notify victims. You may be able to talk to the prosecutor’s office that handled the case to see if they would agree to notify you when the abuser gets released. It might also be possible to contact the facility that is holding the abuser to ask if they have any sort of notification option for victims. However, if there is no requirement that these agencies notify you, then there is no guarantee that they will be willing to or remember to do so.

Another way that you can keep track of whether or not the abuser is still in jail or prison is by signing up for alerts with the Victim Information and Notification Everyday (VINE) system. The VINELink system lets you find out information about whether the abuser is still in custody, and allows you to set up alerts for when the abuser is released. You can find more information, and sign up for free, on the VINELink page. Note: WomensLaw.org is not associated with this program and so we cannot vouch for its effectiveness, but we provide the link for your information.

What are victim advocates and how can they help?

Many district attorney’s offices employ victim advocates. Your local police department might also have victim advocates. These advocates work with people who have experienced crimes and help act as a go-between for victims and law enforcement agencies. A victim advocate may be able to connect you to resources, keep you informed of the abuser’s criminal case, let you know if a criminal order of protection is in place, offer emotional support, assist you as the abuser moves through the criminal justice process, and provide other assistance. You can contact the prosecutor’s office or the local police in the county where the crime took place to see if they have a victim’s advocate and whether you are eligible for assistance.

Is the abuser allowed to have or buy a gun when s/he is released?

Federal gun laws and most state gun laws restrict someone’s ability to buy or have a gun when s/he has been convicted of certain crimes. Under federal law, a person with a felony or domestic violence misdemeanor conviction cannot have a gun. Additionally, most state laws restrict someone with a felony conviction and certain other convictions from having or buying a gun.

Additionally, if you have a restraining order against the abuser, then it is possible that the abuser could be restricted from having or buying a gun. Some restraining orders include a provision that explicitly says the abuser cannot have a gun while the order is in effect. If the abuser has a gun, then it may be a violation of the order. Also, federal gun laws and some state gun laws restrict an abuser from having a gun when s/he is subject to a restraining order, in certain situations. You can select your state from the dropdown in our State Gun Laws section to read more. You can also read our Federal Gun Laws section for more information.

Do I need to file for a restraining order?

A restraining order can help protect you once the abuser gets out of jail. However, it’s possible that you may already have one based on the criminal conviction. When someone has been criminally charged with harming another person, the criminal court judge might issue a criminal restraining order even if you didn’t ask for one. A criminal restraining order will usually last as long as the criminal charges are pending and the judge thinks it is needed to keep the victim safe. If the abuser is convicted of a crime, then the restraining order might be extended for some period of time as part of the sentence. However, if the abuser is not convicted, either because s/he is acquitted or the charges are dropped, then usually the judge will also cancel the restraining order.

When a criminal restraining order is issued, it should be mailed to you or given to you by the victim advocate. However, if you never received the order or if you do not know if there is a criminal restraining order in place in your case, you can contact the court clerk at the court that heard the criminal case to see if there is one on file. You might also be able to contact the prosecutor’s office that handled the case to ask for a copy of the criminal restraining order.

Whether or not the judge in the criminal case issues a criminal restraining order, someone who experienced abuse may be able to file for a civil restraining order on his or her own. You can file for a restraining order without involving law enforcement, and a civil order can exist at the same time as a criminal restraining order. Since you are the one who files the petition to ask for the civil restraining order, you could have more say in what provisions are included in the order and how long it lasts. With a criminal order, the prosecutor will be making recommendations to the judge, and the judge has the final say. Also, if criminal charges are dropped, then a civil order would not be affected the way that a criminal restraining order would be. You can learn more about civil restraining orders in your state in our Restraining Orders section.

If you are seeking to get a civil protection order against someone who is due to get out of prison or jail, you may be able to get one based on past violence coupled with the fact that the person is due to be released. When an abuser is in jail, the victim may have to arrange to have the restraining order paperwork served within the jail. The process to do this may differ depending on the state. In some states, court paperwork can be mailed to the jail. In other states, an official working at the jail may need to give the paperwork to the abuser and sign an affidavit of service.

What does it mean if the abuser is released on probation or parole?

As part of the criminal justice process, the abuser could end up on either probation or parole. These are similar concepts but come about in different ways.

Probation is monitoring that occurs as part of the initial sentencing process after a guilty plea or conviction. An abuser might be sentenced to probation rather than incarceration or in addition to incarceration. When an abuser is on probation, s/he will be supervised by the probation department in the area where s/he lives. This usually means checking in with an assigned probation officer and following certain conditions of probation.

Parole occurs when an abuser is sentenced to incarceration for committing the crime and then is released from prison early. Most people sentenced to prison do not serve the full sentence. When someone is in prison, there are certain dates scheduled along the way where a person will be eligible for parole. A parole hearing is held, and the parole board decides whether or not the prisoner should be released, based on a variety of factors. The prisoner’s behavior in prison and the severity of crime are a few examples. The victim may be able to testify at the parole hearing and explain to the board why s/he does or does not want the prisoner released. If the parole board decides to release the prisoner, then s/he will be on parole for the duration of his/her sentence. Similar to probation, the abuser will be assigned a parole officer who will keep tabs on the abuser.

As mentioned above, when an abuser is on probation or parole, there are conditions s/he has to follow that allow him/her to stay out of prison or jail. If the abuser violates these conditions, s/he will usually be brought back before the judge who will decide the consequences of the violation. Some common conditions of parole/probation are:

  • no use of drugs or alcohol;
  • keeping or looking for a job;
  • attending drug and alcohol or anger management classes;
  • no contact with the victim;
  • not spending time with other criminals/felons; and
  • other conditions as appropriate.

If the abuser violates one of the terms of his/her parole or probation, you may be able to contact his/her parole or probation officer to report the violation. The officer will then decide whether to arrest the abuser and bring him/her before the judge for further action. However, before contacting the probation or parole officer, please consider your safety. You may want to ask your domestic violence advocate to do this on your behalf, for example.