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Probation vs. Parole: Which Is Right for Your Case?

Parole Law Blog by The Law Office of Greg Tsioros

Probation vs. Parole: Which Is Right for Your Case?

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What are the differences between probation and parole?

Probation allows adult offenders to be placed in community supervision through a probation agency, often instead of incarceration. Some jurisdictions combine short-term incarceration sentences with probation. This is called a split sentence.

Probations may have various statuses, e.g. active supervision, inactive status, or financial conditions:

  • Active supervision: This means the probationer is required to report to a probation authority on a regular basis, either in person, by telephone, or by mail.
  • Inactive status: The probationer’s offense was considered minimal, or he or she received reduced supervision by moving from an active to an inactive status.
  • Financial conditions: The probationer has only financial conditions to address (or he or she absconded, or has active warrants). The offender may be required to pay fines, participate in certain treatment programs, or pay court costs and fees.

The probationer’s failure to comply with the terms and conditions of probation may result in a return to incarceration.

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Parole involves a criminal offender who receives conditional release from incarceration to serve the remainder of his or her sentence in the community:

  • A prisoner may receive parole as a decision of the parole board, i.e. discretionary parole or release. This type of parole isn’t restricted to prisoners released through a parole board’s decision. It also includes those prisoners released on the basis of a statute’s provisions.
  • Parolees may have various supervision statuses, e.g. active supervision, inactive supervision, or financial conditions:
  1. Active supervision: The parolee must report on a regular basis to a parole authority in-person, by mail, or by telephone.
  2. Inactive status: The parolee may be subject to reduced supervision, either because he or she complied with or met required terms and conditions before the termination of his or her parole sentence and, therefore, was moved to inactive from active status.
  3. Financial conditions: As with probationers, the parolee may face financial conditions (or he or she absconded, or has active warrants).

The failure to fully comply with the offender’s terms and conditions of probation may result in a return to prison.

Probation is a Criminal Sentence without Serving Time in Prison

Probation allows the offender to stay in a community setting instead of serving time in a jail or prison. The defendant is free if he or she meets the terms and conditions of probation:

  • Conditions often include regular meetings with an assigned probation officer
  • Avoiding the use of drugs and/or alcohol
  • Keeping a regular job or continuing an educational path
  • Advising the parole officer of residential changes (with advanced notice and the parole officer’s permission)
  • Obeying all laws and not committing new criminal offenses

The specific terms and conditions of a specific probation may differ between defendants, depending on the type of offense, his or her prior record, victims’ presence (e.g., how the victims were harmed), and additional facts or circumstances.

Parole is an Early Supervised Release from Incarceration

In comparison, parole is a supervised release of the offender from his or her incarceration sentence.

The offender is released to community supervision before the original jail term is concluded.

What happens if the offender violates terms and conditions of parole or probation?

In many instances, the offender is returned to jail or prison under the original sentence terms. Violating probation can result in a new jail term. In contrast, a violation of parole means the offender is returned to jail to meet the remainder of his or her original sentence.

If you have questions about parole or probation, it’s always prudent to contact an experienced parole lawyer as soon as possible. Time is always critical when you must raise a defense or explore the strongest legal options for your case.

What is the key difference between probation and parole?

Simply put, probation involves serving one’s sentence in a community setting instead of prison. In comparison, parole is a type of conditional early release from incarceration to the community:

  • Probation allows the offender to serve his or her sentence in a community setting. The probationer must abide by certain terms and conditions.
  • Similarly, the parolee must agree to specific terms and conditions in exchange for a conditional early release from incarceration.

Probation and parole are similar in this way. Both provide the offender with the opportunity to live in the community as long as he or she follows the restrictions and rules set forth. Both are corrective measures in which the offender avoids imprisonment.

In addition, both probation and parole offer lower costs, community support, higher employment levels, and restitution to victims. Both are viewed as alternatives to jail or prison.

However, if the probationer and parolee is to remain free in the community, he or she must adhere to specific guidelines and rules, such as:

  • Compliance with court-established terms and conditions
  • Agreement to forego the possession or use of drugs and/or alcohol
  • Agreement to avoid restricted areas or places
  • Agreement to avoid criminal activities and criminals
  • Obtain permission to leave the county, state, or country
  • Remain in the state or country
  • Regularly report to the assigned probation or parole officer

Supervisory Practices

The offender on probation or parole has the opportunity to work in his or her community and to pursue a more productive, free life.

However, it’s essential for probationers and parolees to be carefully supervised:

  • Parole is typically granted after an offender demonstrates consistent good behavior.
  • Parole is granted after the offender completes a portion of the prison sentence.
  • Parole allows the inmate to be released before time served on the condition that he or she remains supervised by the designated authority and that detention will be reinstated if he or she fails to comply with the terms and conditions of release.
  • Probation may be offered to a first-time offender (in non-violent crimes). It’s granted prior to incarceration to rehabilitate the offender.
  • Probation is a type of suspended imprisonment. If the probationer continues to demonstrate good behavior in the community, his or her sentence is suspended. If he or she presents a risk to the community, he or she is returned to serve the sentence in prison.
  • A judge must revoke probation.
  • A parole board must revoke parole.

Consult experienced parole lawyer Greg Tsioros to discuss your case »

Similarities and Differences of Probation and Parole

In many ways, probation and parole have similar aspects—but they’re not the same.

Probation is for the offender without a prior criminal record.

Parole is for the offender who is serving a prison sentence because he or she committed a serious crime. The demonstration of good behavior in prison may help the offender to be awarded parole.

Both probation and parole are alternatives to time behind bars:

  • Probation almost always occurs before or instead of jail/prison
  • Parole involves the early release from a prison term

Both probation and parole involve careful supervision. The offender must follow the specified rules and guidelines for his or her case. The probationer or parolee must submit to warrantless searches, even without probable cause.

Differences between probation and parole

Although both probation and parole seek to help the defendant to break bad behaviors or habits that prompted him or her to break the law in the past, the focus remains on protecting the community:

  • Parole attempts to support the defendant’s reintegration to society.
  • Depending on the offense, the conditions of parole or probation may be changed or amended. For instance, if the offender was convicted of the sexual assault of a child, he or she may be required to stay away from areas where children congregate, e.g. parks or playgrounds.
  • Conditions of probation and parole must in some way relate to the offender’s rehabilitation or the original offense.
  • The probationer remains subject to the court’s jurisdiction. The judge may modify or amend the terms and conditions of probation by issuing a modifying order.
  • Parole changes are usually established by a parole board. The original judge doesn’t modify the parolee’s terms and conditions. If necessary, changes are made by the parole board or the parole officer after an administrative hearing.

The administrative hearing is needed to address alleged violations of the parolee’s terms and conditions. It’s an important distinction between probation and parole.

However, it’s important to note that the administrative hearing offers fewer constitutional protections than a criminal trial. An accused parolee usually benefits from reaching out to an experienced parole attorney for that reason.

Protect Your Rights

Of course, most defendants are concerned with obtaining strong legal representation when they’re first facing a serious criminal charge. An experienced parole attorney is important because he works to ensure that the client receives due process.

A defendant should seek experienced counsel when parole issues are present. The protections and constitutional procedures available in a parole revocation situation are administrative in nature. With fewer built-in protections, the defendant-parolee benefits from the diligence of strong legal representation.

If you have questions about probation and parole, and which is right for your case, contact Houston parole attorney Greg Tsioros at 832-752-5972 to request an initial case review.

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