Parole vs Probation – What’s the Difference

Parole vs Probation

When an individual finds themselves in a legal crisis and breaks the law, there are different outcomes, depending on the type and severity of their wrongdoing. Two common but often confusing sentences that court orders are Probation and Parole, and there is a substantial procedural disparity between Probation and Parole.

So what is the difference between Parole v. Probation? Is one better or terrible than the other? 

Probation and Parole are privileges rather than rights that enable convicted criminals to avoid prison or serve only a portion of their sentence. Both depend on good behavior and aim to rehabilitate criminals in a manner that prepares them for life in the community, making them less likely to re-offend or perpetrate new crimes.

What is Probation? How does it work?

Probation is granted by the judge when the circumstances and seriousness of the offense indicate that the convict is not a threat to society and that detention is not an ethical punishment.

Probation may be granted instead of any prison sentence by the judge as part of the initial sentence of the convicted person.

Judges determine the restraints on the offender’s activities that he has to follow during his probation period. During probation terms, offenders remain under the supervision of the state probation office.

Conditions of Probation 

Depending on the severity of their crimes, offenders may get placed under active or inactive surveillance during their probationary period. Offenders under active supervision report daily to their assigned probation offices by mail, telephone, or personally, whereas convicts in inactive status do not need to visit periodically.

Probationers may be required to meet certain conditions of their supervision, such as paying fines, court expenses, and participating in rehabilitation procedures.

General conditions may include living where permitted, participating in rehabilitation programs, and complying with drug and alcohol tests. Probationers may be required to submit periodic reports to the court demonstrating that they have complied with all conditions of their probation during the reporting period.

What does Parole mean? How does it work?

Parole is a substitute for prisoners to reduce their total prison time once they have served a significant portion of their sentence. It allows a convicted person to be released from prison on parole and return to live and work in their community under the supervision of a probation officer.

Parole can be either voluntary—by a vote of a state-appointed prison parole board—or mandatory—according to provisions outlined in federal sentencing guidelines.

You must be wondering how Parole is different from Probation.

Simply put, Parole varies from Probation in that it is not a substituting decree but rather an immunity granted to certain inmates after serving part of their sentence.

Who is eligible for Parole?

Several states confine Parole to inmates convicted of specific crimes who have served an exact percentage of their sentence. For example, criminals charged with first-degree murder, rape, kidnapping, or drug trafficking are generally not eligible for Parole.

A common misconception about Parole is that it can only be granted based on the prisoner’s “good behavior” while incarcerated. While behavior is a factor, the parole board evaluates many other factors like the inmate’s age, marital and parental status, mental state, and criminal history.
In addition, the parole board will also consider the seriousness and circumstances of the crime, the length of time served, and the inmate’s willingness to express remorse for the crime. Parolees who fail to demonstrate the ability to establish permanent residency and obtain employment are hardly eligible for parole regardless of other factors.

During the parole hearing, the inmate will get questioned by board members. In addition, the public can usually speak for or against the granting of Parole. For example, relatives of crime victims often criticize at parole hearings. Most importantly, Parole will only get granted if the board is satisfied that releasing the convict poses no menace to public safety and that the inmate is willing to abide by his parole conditions and can re-enter the community.

Conditions for parole

A parolee has to follow a set of rules (pre-determined by the judge) regarding their behavior and meet regularly with their parole officer while serving their sentence. They must attend every scheduled appointment with their parole officer and cannot be late. Failure to show up and time delays in attending meetings may lead to legal consequences.

Furthermore, the individual must not commit any crimes, even the smallest. They will also undergo regular drug and alcohol tests and meet outstanding land law obligations, such as paying fines and attending court hearings promptly.

If a parolee violates the terms of his parole, his parole will get revoked, and he will be re-incarcerated.

Fourth Amendment Rights – Search and Seizure

The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution protects people from illegal searches and seizures by law enforcement officers, but this does not apply to people on Probation or Parole.

Houses of those on Probation and Parole may get searched without a warrant. If they find drugs, weapons, or other equipment that violate the terms of Probation or Parole, those items may be seized and used as evidence against the offender. Along with revocation of Probation or Parole, offenders may face additional criminal charges for the custody of illegal drugs, weapons, or stolen goods.

 Differences Between Probation and Parole

  1. Probation is the recession of an offender’s sentence and allowing him to remain in the community while teaching good behavior under the supervision of an officer. Parole is the early release of a convicted person before the end of their sentence to serve the remainder of the sentence in the community, provided they are of good behavior and meet specific conditions.
  2. The nature of Probation is determinative, while the nature of Parole is administrative.
  3. Probation is granted by a judge as an alternative to prison, while Parole is a conditional release from prison.
  4. The court decides on the Probation, and Parole gets granted to the convict by the parole commission.
  5. The accused gets probation before imprisonment. On the other hand, Parole is allowed after the offender has completed a significant portion of the prison sentence.
  6. First-time offenders and crimes that do not involve violence get probation. Parole is allowed for criminals in custody who behave well while in prison.
  7. A person who gets Probation shall report to a probation officer, but a paroled offender must report to a probation officer.


To summarize, Parole and Probation are legally distinct methods of rehabilitation and correction in the U.S. criminal justice system, even though they are not rights per se with several similarities but vital procedural differences.

Probation allows a defendant to serve their criminal sentence in the community without going to prison, as against Parole is an early release from prison subject to good behavior under the supervision of a parole officer.

Understanding the difference between Probation and Parole helps the accused and their family by taking reasonable precautions and knowing how it may affect them later.


Who is eligible for parole?

To be eligible for parole, a convicted person must have already served a significant portion of their original prison sentence.

Who is eligible for probation?

To be eligible for probation, the judge determines at the time of sentencing that the convicted person’s crimes do not warrant a prison sentence.

Can I apply to be removed from Parole or Probation?

A parolee or probationer may apply for exclusion from the community supervision program. Consult an attorney to discuss your options for terminating Parole or Probation early.

How can a lawyer help if you are on Parole or Probation?

If you get accused of violating the terms of your Parole or Probation, your attorney can help you defend your case and prevent you from facing further legal consequences. They can also help you if you want to request early termination of your trial period.