The difference between Probation and Parole

Probation and parole hold similar meanings to those convicted of a crime; time is being served while living in the community with strict guidelines and expectations, an alternative to incarceration. The biggest difference between the two is when time is served once convicted. We will look at what those guidelines and expectations are, but first let’s discuss each term.

Probation is when the defendant has a chance to serve his/her time before incarceration. When someone is granted a sentence that includes probation, they will often be sentenced to a period of incarceration, that period of incarceration is suspended and the person is ordered to successfully complete a period of probation. This is an opportunity to show the court a desire to rehabilitate. Typically, this is for a first-time offender or someone guilty of a non-violent crime. A sentence that includes probation is often as a result of a plea bargain but someone can get probation even if he/she lost at trial. By not violating conditions of probation, a person can avoid their prison sentence and lead a relatively normal life. However, should there be any additional violations during the term of probation, the offender will be required to serve their prison sentence. As an example, someone could be sentenced to serve 5-years in prison, that sentence is suspended and that person is order to complete a 3-year term of probation. If that person has no violations, that person will not have to serve that prison sentence. If there are violations, it is possible that person could be sent to prison to serve that sentence.

Parole is an option for inmates currently serving their sentence in prison and can only be approved by a parole board. Parole is not guaranteed and is dependent on the time served, good behavior and other factors. Once an inmate is released they are considered a parolee for the remainder of their sentence. A parolee can be sent back to prison should he/she violate the conditions of release or commit another crime.
We’ve talked about guidelines and expectations, also referred to as conditions of, here is a short list of conditions.

  • Meeting with your officer. Usually this is an in-person meeting, but can be via phone or mail.
  • No use or possession of drugs, alcohol or other intoxicating and illicit chemicals
  • Remain within county or state and obtain permission before traveling outside geographical boundaries
  • Contact with others on parole or current inmates is prohibited
  • Officers have access to place of residence, employment and any other location as needed
  • Notification of changes, including marital status, residence and employment
  • Do not own or otherwise possess any kind of firearm
  • Unconditional agreement to drug testing, curfew and any other treatment as directed by officer
  • Be gainfully employed
  • No added violations of law
  • Pay monthly restitution as part of a cost deferment for supervision
  • Warrantless searches of home, employment and person at any time
  • Unconditionally comply with all other conditions directed by the court and officer

This is not meant to be a comprehensive list and either a judge or the parole board can alter conditions is regard to individual cases. Be sure to discuss options with an attorney specializing in criminal cases.