Difference Between Probation and Parole


Difference Between Probation and Parole

Ever wondered if probation and parole mean the same thing? Sorry, they don’t. Don’t feel bad, though – many had nursed the same wrong conception over the years too. And millions still do. You may have to be in a related profession to understand some jargon in the Law and Justice niche.

Although probation and parole are two concepts often used interchangeably – particularly among ‘laymen’ – they mean two entirely different things.

Understanding Probation vs Parole

probation vs parole

Probation and paroles are legal alternatives to incarceration. They are more of privileges – than rights – that offer convicted offenders a punishment option other than jail time.

That said, both probation and parole seek a common goal – to rehabilitate offenders and reintegrate them into society. Besides preparing these one-time criminals for a new life, these correctional measures also try to discourage them from returning to their old ways.

These often-confused concepts of the U.S correctional system come with some close similarities as well as differences.

Over time, the issue of convicted criminals dwelling in the community, among non-criminals, has triggered fear among residents. Understanding the functions and importance of probation and parole will help create a positive mindset towards the probation-parole initiative.

How Probation Works

Probation is a privilege offered to convicted offenders – by the court – as part of their initial sentence. Probation is usually granted to offenders after observing part of the supposed jail time or as a replacement of jail time.

The judge then specifies restrictions- during the sentencing phase of the trial – on the convict’s activities.

During the period of probation, convicts are kept under the strict supervision of a probation agency administered by the state.

Read also: What Crimes Usually Get Probation?

Probation Conditions

Based on the circumstances – as well as their severity – surrounding their crimes, convicts may be put under supervision. This supervision is either active or inactive.

Convicts placed on active supervision are expected to report, regularly, to the probation agency to which they are assigned. Reports may be done by mail, telephone, or in person.

Felons placed on inactive probation –unlike their active counterparts – do not require regular reporting.

That said, offenders, while on probation, may have to satisfy stated conditions. Typically, these conditions may include fees, fines, court costs, and completion of rehab schemes.

Whether on active or inactive supervision, all offenders are to abide by certain codes of conduct and expected behavior when released into the community. The court has the right to decide on probation conditions. The conditions can vary across cases and individuals.

Typically, probation conditions include

  • Regular reports to probation officers
  • Payment of fines
  • Restitution on drug and alcohol usage
  • Restitution to victims of crime
  • Residency – for instance, proximity from schools
  • Substance abuse or psychological counseling
  • Ban on possession of weapons like firearms
  • Satisfactory completion of court-assigned community service
  • Restriction on relationships and personal acquaintances

Also, persons on probation may be asked to report now and then at the court. Such routine appearances help the court get feedback as regards the level of compliance of the conditions of probation within the reporting duration.

How Parole Works

Parole is a provision of the law court that grants convicts conditional release from prison. The convicted offender is made to use the supposed remaining sentence duration for community service. Parole may be granted, either on a discretionary basis, by the state-appointed parole board, or mandatory, based on the federal sentencing guidelines provisions.

Parole, unlike probation, does not replace a sentence. Instead, paroles are considered privileges offered by incarcerated offenders after completing a part of their sentence terms.

However, parolees, as with probationers, must adhere to terms and conditions during the community service. Failure to comply, strictly, with the court requirements may lead to Reincarceration.

Parole Conditions

As with probationers- those released on probation – convicted offenders freed on parole –parolees- are placed under supervision, active or inactive, by parole officers appointed by the state.

While terms of parole are issued based on the discretion of the parole board, here are common parole conditions:

  • Regular reports to parole officers appointed by the state.
  • Passing random alcohol and drug tests
  • Regular attendance in alcohol and drug counseling classes
  • Maintaining a place of residence, except on permission
  • Securing and keeping a job
  • Avoiding victims of crime and criminal activities
  • No contact with criminals

Typically, the parole officers fix periodic meetings with the parolees. Also, the officers may come to the parolee home unannounced. This helps to get genuine feedback on the offender’s compliance with the terms of probation.

Who is eligible for parole? 

Who is eligible for parole?

Of course, parole can not be granted to all inmates. For instance, persons convicted of murder, arson, rape, kidnapping, aggravated drug trafficking, and violence-related crimes are rarely ever granted parole.

There’s a widespread misconception that an inmate may be granted parole solely for their ‘good behavior.’

Of course, individual behavior is a factor that determines whether an inmate deserves parole. However, state-appointed parole boards make their decision after considering factors including the offender’s age, parental and marital status, criminal history, and mental condition.

Typically, the parole board factors in circumstances of the crime, severity, length of incarceration, as well as convict’s tendency to show remorse for crime committed.

Convicted offenders who currently have no jobs and are unwilling to get one and establish a permanent residency after release are less considered for parole – even if other factors feel good.

The parole board sets a date for a parole hearing where board members quiz the inmate. Also, the public is allowed to speak in support or against granting the inmate(s) parole. For instance, the victims of the crime and relatives will be allowed to speak at such hearings.

After due consideration and conviction that an inmate’s release will not pose safety threats to the public, parole may be granted. The inmate being considered must also show a willingness to adhere to the laid down conditions of his/her parole and reintegrate with the community.

Recommended: What is the Difference Between Jail and Prison?

Who is responsible for probation and parole?

A convicted offender on parole or probation ought to maintain a cordial relationship with the parole or probation officer. In some states, their functions are separated into divisions – majorly the Probation Department and the Parole Department. In other states, however, both functions are infused into one office.

For instance, in Louisiana, an offender could be granted probation, probation revoked, returns to prison, freed after completion of sentence, and again meets the same officer who handled his probation as his parole officer.

In Texas, conversely, the functions are split among different agencies. The officer, an offender reports to while on probation, is entirely different from the parole officer.

Difference Between Parole Officers And Probation Officers

Ideally, the functions of a parole officer are different from that of a probation officer. One key similarity among their roles is that they both handle convicts.

However, parole officers are concerned with felons who have been sentenced to prison and have served a part of the sentence.

Probation officers, however, work with convicted offenders granted probation –they may not have been to prison – and require assistance to stay off your past criminal life.

Although both functions are pretty similar, here are a few critical differences between probation and parole officers.

Convicts’ supervision

Parole officers supervise those who have spent a reasonable portion of their sentence in incarceration. The board of parole believes such individuals require some guidance to help them reintegrate, fully, into society and turn over a new leaf.

Probation officers, conversely, handle convicted criminals who have not been imprisoned but sentenced to probation. These convicts are, on the one hand, upset about their conviction, and on the other, glad they escaped jail time. The probation officers are given legal powers to hold regular meetings and counseling sessions believed to help convicts become better people – even without jail time.

So, while the parole officers’ task involves handling one who has served time in prison – in the company of other criminals -, the probation officer’s case is different.

Considering the likely influence of fellow inmates while in prison, logically, the parole officer’s task looks more daunting.

Oversight Organization

Parole is conducted by a federal or state parole board, and their officers are constituted by the board. The board decides whether or not an offender should be granted parole.

Probation is an alternative to sentence in a criminal court, and the officers act as ordered by the judge. Overtime, probation officers report the progress of the probationers to the court according to the provision of the probation sentence.

Caseload Volume

Probation officers’ caseloads seem to be more voluminous than the parole officers’. Averagely, probation officers seldom meet with supervised convicts. And of course, caseloads are determined by the frequency of meetings between the supervisor and the offenders.

Similarities Between Parole and Probation

Here’s a list of similarities between probation officers and parole officers.

Dealing with Convicted Offenders

Both probation and parole officers work with convicted offenders. Parolees and probationers both fall under the class of those who have either plead guilty to a crime or found guilty of one. Both roles deal with persons who have, in any way, committed crimes punishable by the constitution.

Handling cases

Probation and parole officers deal with the caseload of convicts placed under their supervision.

Probation and parole officers are placed to supervise many offenders

Supervisors are charged to give the needed attention to the offenders assigned to them. Over time, the officers are able to tell which parolee or probationer needs more attention and which would be fine with the least monitoring.

Planning and Coordinating Service

Before the board of parole considers the release of a felon or prior to a judge’s pronouncement of probation sentence, both the parole and probation officers collaborate with other experts in the criminal justice niche to carve out a rehabilitation plan to help reduce the likelihood of their subjects returning to jail after release.

While some of these plans are spelled out by federal- and state-appointed parole boards or the prosecuting court, some other key requirements are stated in the sentencing order.

Officers –both parole and probation – link convicted criminals to services and ensure they leverage such opportunities.

Relevant Skills

Both probation and parole officers need some skillset to be successful in their assignments. First, both officers must acquire good communication skills.

Talking communication, probation and parole officers interpret orders and rules, relate information to convicts, draft reports to judges and parole boards, interact with families of the convicts, and give feedback about their subjects’ rehab process

Also, they must be good at decision-making.

Often, they are expected to make sound judgment beneficial to offenders. When making decisions, probation and parole officers must be able to weigh the pros and cons of each available option and pick the most beneficial. Here, a strong critical thinking skill is a must-have.

Sound organizational skills will also help these officers navigate through the truckload of caseloads, seamlessly. Knowing what comes first, and next helps in getting the right thing done.

Factors that Determines Probation or Parole Time

Factors that Determines Probation or Parole Time

The period spent on parole or probation is largely dependent on individual state laws, as well as the recommendations of your probation or parole officer.

Commonly, state laws offer provisions on adjustment of parole/probation times.

First, among other factors is your current stage in the process.

Probation is usually followed by parole. Probation duration can be prolonged for anywhere between six months to 10 years. The duration is usually proportional to the severity of the offense.

For instance, convicts for low-level felonies be granted two to three years probation while assaultive offenses and other higher-level crimes get as much as ten years on probation.

In most states, there’s a maximum duration for felony probation – commonly ten years cap.

For parole, the time spent is determined by the initial sentence as well as the court’s directives. However, parole length does not exceed the initial sentence.

For instance, if a convict gets a ten-year imprisonment sentence and is related after serving three years, your parole will run for the remaining seven years. If you received parole after a life sentence, it means your parole will run all your life.

Parole can, however, be revoked on violation of any parole conditions.

Early Termination of Parole

Most states – except in compelling circumstances – have no provision for premature parole termination. This is only applicable to offenders on probation. For probationers, early termination may be granted if the board is satisfied with your performance.

On payment of all court fines and dues, completion of community service hours, and satisfaction of all court directives, some states may allow you to request early termination. Time for application varies across states. But in most states, a petition for early discharge can be sent on completion of, at least, one-half of your probation duration.

Your probation time may not necessarily interfere with your parole time. This means the time spent on probation does not reduce your sentence.

If you had a ten-year prison sentence, for example, and somewhere along, the court orders suspension of your sentence and decides to place you on five-year community supervision, if you violate the conditions three years after and get sentenced to ten years in jail, you won’t get any time off the ten-year sentence for the probation duration, since the sentence was on hold during your probation.

Do you feel like your parole or probation time is not well calculated?

You may discuss with a local attorney who knows more about the applicable calculations in your jurisdiction.

How do probation and parole relate to the Fourth Amendment?

fourth amendment

While the U.S. constitution’s Fourth Amendment shields its citizens from unwarranted searches and seizures, persons on parole or probation are not covered by this provision.

Law enforcement agents can carry out searches on vehicles, houses, and other properties of parolees and probationers anytime – even without a warrant. Where drugs, weapons, or any items that violate the parole or probation conditions are found, the items may be seized for evidence against a parolee or probationer.

Besides revoking their parole or probation, the convicted offender incurs even more criminal charges for possession of illegal items or stolen merchandise.

Protecting Your Rights

Many are bothered about having a good attorney during their initial criminal charge. Indeed, this is a well-founded concern. Most states’ constitution makes provisions that protect the rights of defendants and ensure they receive due process. Offenders can apply as much diligence in obtaining seasoned counsel to help with parole-related issues, just as they initially did with the original crime.

A good attorney may come in handy since constitutional protections and procedures may significantly lessen in revoking parole as they are more administrative in nature.

Other Sentencing Alternatives

Besides parole and probation, the court may order either, or a combination of these alternative sentences as punishment to convicted offenders

Prison Sentence

In some states, the judges may pronounce a “determinate” jail sentence. By determinate sentence, the judge imposes a fixed-term sentence on convicted offenders.

For instance, when an accused is sentenced to ten years in state prison, or 60 days in county jail, it is regarded as a determinate sentence.

In some jurisdictions also, judges may grant “indeterminate sentences” to offenders. Here, the law sets a maximum and/or minimum incarceration duration but allows the prison officials to decide when the offender is released.

Generally, indeterminate sentences may only be given offenders sentenced to state prison after found guilty of a felony.

Besides parole and probation, criminal sentences may involve a single or combination of legal elements including incarceration, diversion, fines, restitution, diversion, and/or community service.


These are common sentences for a range of low-level crimes, particularly when committed by first-time convicts. Some of the offenses punishable by fines include traffic violations, shoplifting, fish and game violations.

For more severe criminal cases or circumstances where the convicted offender has a past criminal record, judges, often add other punishment to the fine. Such additional sentences could include any of community service, probation, or incarceration.


While court fines go to the government prosecuting the convict, restitution is paid to either the victim or state-established restitution fund.

The convicted offender may be ordered by the court to replace or return damaged or stolen properties or compensate for physical injuries or the cost of psychological and medical treatments. Or, in some cases, pay the cost of the funeral and related expenses – when it concerns the loss of life.

There are situations where society is considered the victim. Such cases may include Medicare and welfare fraud schemes where offenders are ordered to make restitution, paying back to the state the money defrauded.

Often, offenders are sentenced to conditions of which restitution is only a part. Community service, prison, and/or probation might be added.

Community Service

The courts can order convicted offenders to undergo an unpaid task within the community –referred to as community service. The aim is to make the defendant pay the community for the offense committed against it.

Typically, community service may come with other conditions such as a fine, restitution, or probation.


The U.S laws allow for diversion of cases out of the courts. On completion of a diversion program, offenders’ charges can be dropped. Diversion offers criminals a legal opportunity to avoid the stigma that comes with a conviction.

A person who had their cases diverted would have to attend a rehabilitation or treatment program. These programs are typically opened to offenders with non-violent cases – such as involving alcohol and drugs as well as misdemeanors. Across some states, a diversion program may be applicable to offenses related to domestic violence, child neglect or abuse, offering bad checks and traffic-related infractions.

Sometimes, prosecutors particularly give a diversion to offenders who are qualified according to the community’s guidelines. A defendant’s counsel may also suggest that the prosecutor grants their clients a diversion even before filing formal charges.

And Even More Alternatives

There are miscellaneous alternative sentences. Here are some of such innovative sentences:

  • Judges have ordered offenders to install breathalyzer gadgets in their vehicles to detect offenders’ breath. The defendant’s car will not start when ‘unclean’ breath is detected.
  • Offenders may be asked to give lectures about the ills of crime to society
  • They are sometimes asked to attend conferences where crime victims lecture.
  • Complete an alcohol or drug treatment scheme
  • Serve weekend prison time
  • House arrest

Final Note

Parole vs probation are both correctional measures aimed at modifying convicted offenders’ behavior, they have different patterns of operation.

Count yourself lucky if you’ve been granted either a probation or parole in lieu of incarceration and abide by the conditions to avoid even more legal penalties.

That said, criminal cases come with severe consequences – both short and long term. If you’ve been found guilty of a criminal offense, discuss with an experienced criminal defense lawyer. Your jurisdiction largely dictates the statutes and procedures applicable to your criminal case.