What’s the difference between probation and parole?

Someone facing criminal charges will likely wonder what penalties they’re facing. These might include incarceration, fines, community corrections, special court programs or community service. It’s important that a person understands what the possibilities in their case mean. 

For some, there’s an option of being placed on probation. While probation and parole are sometimes jumbled up together, they are actually two distinct programs. 

How do probation and parole differ?

A person who’s on parole has spent time in prison and is being released before their sentence is over. Probation is an alternative to prison. It allows a person to avoid jail entirely, even after their conviction. Special community correction officers oversee people on both programs. 

Probation and parole both have special rules that the person must follow. Typically, parole has stricter rules for the person to follow. People on both programs will have to report to their supervising officer regularly. They may also be drug tested, and will likely have to hold a job. Other terms, including staying away from known felons, usually come with these programs. 

Anyone who’s on probation or parole must stay out of legal trouble. New legal charges could lead to them being in violation of the program. Following the terms of the probation or parole means that you’ll be able to be released from the program on time, but violations could lead to changes in your sentence. For those on probation, that may mean going to jail. For those on parole, it means returning to jail — possibly to serve the rest of their sentence.

Facing criminal charges is a serious matter, regardless of the charges. The more you understand about your position and the options, the easier it may be to make informed decisions about your case.