Criminal Law

What Is the Difference Between Parole and Probation?

Probation and parole are easy terms to confuse. They both involve supervision by the state. Probation is generally an alternative to jail. As long as you can follow the requirements, you will likely be able to avoid spending time in jail or prison. Parole involves the early release from jail, and violating parole can lead to going back to prison to serve the remainder of a sentence.

It is important to understand parole and probation because violating the terms of either can lead to jail time. After a violation, it is important that you have a lawyer defend you to put you in the best position of remaining free. Talk to an experienced criminal defense attorney for legal advice.


What Is Probation?

Probation is an alternative to serving time in jail or prison. After a criminal conviction, a judge will issue your sentence, which can include jail, fines, or other penalties. If the judge sentences you to probation, you must agree to follow the conditions of probation instead of serving time in jail or prison.

If you breach the terms of the agreement, you may have to go to jail or have increased supervision. Probation may be available under state laws for certain types of violations, most likely minor offenses and non-violent crimes. Judges generally have some discretion to decide whether you are a candidate for probation.

What Is Parole?

Parole is a term of restricted release from prison. During sentencing, the judge sentences you to a set period of jail time. However, you may be eligible for parole at an earlier time, usually because of good behavior. For example, despite a five-year prison sentence, you may be eligible for parole after two years.

Parole is generally discretionary and up to the parole board. The factors the parole board will consider include:

  • Changes in state sentencing laws
  • Good behavior or disciplinary violations while in prison
  • Whether you are facing new criminal charges
  • A significant change in circumstances
  • Your age and health, including mental health
  • The victim's input
  • The probability of reformation
  • Whether you pose a danger to society

If the board grants you parole, know that it can be rescinded at any time. After your release, you will have to follow a series of conditions to remain free. If you violate the parole conditions, there will be a hearing to decide if you have to return to serving time for your original sentence. For instance, if you received parole after two years of a five-year sentence, you will go back to prison for another three years.

Conditions of Parole and Probation

The conditions of parole and probation can be similar. The conditions you receive will depend on the type of offense. Both include supervision, either by a probation officer or parole officer. This may include regular updates and surprise visits at home or work. Some of the parole and probation restrictions may include:

  • Avoiding any new arrests
  • Taking regular drug tests
  • Refraining from alcohol and wearing an alcohol monitor bracelet
  • Being in by a set curfew
  • Maintaining school attendance or a job
  • Attending substance abuse counseling or mental health counseling
  • Performing community service
  • Avoiding certain people, including victims or criminal accomplices
  • Being unable to cross state lines
  • Attending court hearings
  • Consenting to regular searches of your home
  • Paying court fees and costs

Costs for Probation and Parole

There may be costs associated with both probation and parole. You will be responsible for paying these fees. Failure to pay these fees or fines may be considered a violation of the terms of your release. Fees can include:

  • Monthly fees
  • Counseling costs
  • Drug and alcohol testing
  • Victim restitution
  • Electronic monitoring costs

Violating Terms of Conditional Release

For a violation, the process may be similar. The parole or probation officer may issue a warning or report the violation to the parole board or the court. You generally have a chance to respond to the charges, and you can have a lawyer represent you in the hearing. After a hearing, the judge or parole board may recommend one of the following:

  • No finding of a violation
  • Modifying the terms of release
  • Revoking parole or probation and sending you to jail

Remember, even a minor violation can send you to jail. Because the stakes are so high, you should strongly consider having an attorney represent you to advocate for your continued freedom. Attorneys can challenge the state's case to show there was no violation or negotiate for another chance. This could include agreeing to additional conditions instead of going back to prison.