What is the Difference Between Parole and Probation?

When an individual gets into legal trouble and breaks the law, there are a number of consequences they can face, depending on the type and severity of their infractions. Two common yet often confused sentences a judge can pass down are probation and parole. There is a major procedural difference between probation and parole.

Probation is part and parcel of the offender’s initial sentence, whereas parole comes much later, allowing the offender early release from a prison sentence. Probation is handed down by the judge at trial. It may be in lieu of jail time or in combination with some jail time. The judge will specify restrictions on the offender’s activities during the probationary period.

Parole is granted by a parole board, after the offender has served some—or perhaps a lot of—time. The parole board may consider factors such as the offender’s behavior in prison and level of rehabilitation, and let him or her out early. The parole board can also specify restrictions on the person’s activities while on parole.


Understanding Parole

Parole is a condition that can become available after part of a sentence of jail time has been served.

We often hear about people getting time off for good behavior or being allowed out of jail on parole. This means they have demonstrated the ability to change their ways, not cause trouble, along with a desire to be a productive member of society once again. Eligible offenders are released onto mandatory supervision when their calendar time served added to their good time credit equals the length of their prison sentence.

There are also rulings for parole that make it possible for an individual to serve part of a prison sentence on parole out in the community. The offender is allowed to be out of jail in the community but they are placed under supervision and will be require to adhere to a list of strict conditions designed to reduce chances of repeat offences during the remainder of the probation.

“If the judge or jury sentences you to jail time rather than probation, the judge will tell you how much of the sentence you actually have to serve before you’re eligible for parole. When you’ve reached this date, you will receive an application to fill out. Then, you’ll be assigned a date for a parole hearing. At the hearing, you’ll meet with several members of your state’s parole commission. You’ll have a chance to explain what you’ve done to rehabilitate yourself or become a better citizen. If you’re no longer a threat to society, the commission will release you from prison early” (Lawyers.com).

If the overseeing body agree to grant parole to an individual, they will then be given a list of the conditions of release that they have to uphold in order to avoid returning to jail. Conditions of release often include general terms such as obey all laws, avoiding alcohol, not visiting certain areas in the community, and not being allowed to drive.

There are also more technical requirements such as reporting for checks, accepting visits from your parole advisor, and reporting any changes of residency or work location. Failing to comply with any condition of release can cause a parole violation. Whether the violation results in your returning to jail depends on the final ruling by the probation committee and the severity of the violation and how much time remains on your overall probation hearing.


Understanding Probation

Probation is a special type of legal sanction that may be ordered by the court system and placed on an individual who has been found guilty of committing certain crimes or legal infractions. There are two types of probation that individuals can end up with. Serving time in jail and then being put on probation after completing some of the sentence is a common option. Some individuals are given the option of going on probation instead of going to jail and if the probation duration is completed successfully, they can avoid ever going to jail.

Probation lets a person stay in their community, so long as they’re being supervised by a probation officer. However, probation is not an option for every single offense – some offenders go to jail or prison without ever having the offer of probation on the table so many consider it something worth perusing if it is offered at their hearing. Probation conditions vary greatly depending on the individual, the circumstances, and the offense, and can include:

  • Community service in the local community
  • Counseling services to help with drug or alcohol issues
  • Fines and restitution payments for damages caused
  • Jail time with an option for probation at a later date
  • Reporting to the probation officer on a regular basis
  • Restrictions on things like alcohol and tobacco
  • Restrictions on weapon possession and usage
  • Limitations on areas in the community they can be

Just as with probation, you’ll still have to serve out your sentence if you receive parole – but you get to do it outside prison. You have to follow certain rules. You might have to attend counseling or take drug tests. You can’t carry a firearm. You can’t be charged with another crime. You usually have to find a job or prove to your probation or parole officer that you’ve been making the effort to find one.

A probation violation happens if you break the terms of your probation and fail to uphold the agreement established by the court. If a judge determines that you violated your probation, you may face additional probation terms, heavy fines, a revoked probation, jail time, or more.


Legal Help Is Available

If you have questions about probation and parole options in regards to your legal case, give us a call. We have helped many people make sense of this confusing part of the sentencing process and we can do the same for you. So, call us today to get started and see what you need to do if you get a probation or a parole ruling from the judge.