The document that proves a party has completed his final prison sentence is called a discharge certificate or certificate of absolute discharge. Depending on the law of the state, a party can get his discharge certificate from the sentencing court or from the state or federal department of corrections where he served his term. A discharge certificate is effective on the date the party completed all the conditions of his sentence. He can make a request by mail, email or phone. A discharge certificate can take between three to six weeks to arrive.
Discharge Certificates for Parolees and Probationers
A parolee or discharged parolee should contact the case records department of the state’s division of adult parole operations. The state department of corrections usually provides a discharge certificate for an inmate under parole supervision to the party’s parole agent. A probationer or discharged probationer should contact her probation officer.
Older Prison Records
In some states, computer records do not date back past a certain point. For example, in Michigan, the state’s department of correction's computer records date back to 1980. A party in that state will need to contact the state’s archives via telephone or email to get older records.
A party who wants to retrieve inmate records should provide the full name of the inmate, the facility in which the inmate was incarcerated, the inmate’s admission date and inmate identification number. In some states, such as New York, it is possible to search records with the inmate’s date of conviction. The date of admission is usually a few days after that. The date of conviction can often be found in a newspaper account or obtained from the county clerk’s office in the county where the inmate’s trial occurred.
Why Is Proof of Discharge Necessary?
A discharge certificate is necessary for an inmate to regain his rights as a citizen. This may include his right to vote. In states where felons lose their voting rights indefinitely, a discharge certificate is useful to have when beginning the process of restoring voting rights.
Where Will the Certificate Be Sent?
The sentencing court or state department of corrections can issue a certificate to the party in person. It may also mail the certificate to her last known address. A party who has changed her address should notify the sentencing court or state department of corrections of the new address.
Discharge Certificates and Expungement
Having a discharge certificate is a first step to clearing a criminal record through expungement. Getting a discharge certificate does not guarantee that a party is eligible to have his record expunged. The process of petitioning a state department of corrections to expunge a record involves showing the department that a party has finished his sentence, is not charged with new offenses, has compensated the victim for her damages and has made substantial changes to avoid reoffending.
Discharge Certificates and Certificates of Rehabilitation
A discharge certificate is different from a Certificate of Rehabilitation. In California, a COR is a petition that requests a court to declare a person convicted of a felony that carried a prison sentence is now rehabilitated. A granted certificate does not dismiss, erase or seal a conviction.
Confusing Paperwork Mentioning Discharge
In certain states, such as Kansas, the term Request for Discharge means a request to be discharged early from supervision, like probation. Filing a Request for Discharge involves a different procedure than requesting a discharge certificate. A party who is finishing his term of probation or parole should tell his probation or parole officer that he wants a discharge certificate after he has completed his sentence.
- California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation: The California Public Records Act
- South Dakota Department of Corrections, Frequent Questions, Inmate Releases
- Michigan Department of Corrections: What Are the Terms and Conditions of its use?
- Michigan Department of Corrections: Archival Information About Prisons and Prisoners
- New York State Archives: Prison Inmate Records
- National Conference of State Legislatures: Felon Voting Rights
- Washington State Legislature: RCW 9.94A.637 Discharge upon completion of sentence—Certificate of discharge—Issuance, effect of no-contact order—Obligations, counseling after discharge.
- California Courts: Clean Your Record
- Maricopa County, Arizona: Frequently Asked Questions
- Kansas Department of Corrections: The Parole Process
Jessica Zimmer is a journalist and attorney based in northern California. She has practiced in a wide variety of fields, including criminal defense, property law, immigration, employment law, and family law.