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Maybe you were arrested for DUI. One of the arresting officers made a comment that you may get probation. Isn’t probation the same as parole? If not, how do they differ?
Probation and parole refer to two separate concepts in the U.S. justice system. Probation is part of your sentencing that works to either reduce or eliminate your jail or prison time. While on probation, you are released into the community under the supervision of the court or a probation officer.
By contrast, parole occurs after you have served, not all, but a significant portion of your jail or state prison sentence. It allows you to serve the remainder of your confinement time outside of custody under the supervision of a parole officer.
With both probation and parole, you must adhere to certain terms and conditions regarding your behavior and conduct, such as agreeing to:
not engage in criminal activity,
submit to random drug tests, and
make regular meetings with your probation or parole officer.
1. What is probation?
Probation refers to a type of criminal sentence imposed by the court where you are released into the community in lieu of spending time in jail or prison.1
While on probation, you are supervised by the court or a probation officer.
You must also adhere to certain terms and conditions of probation throughout your entire probationary period. Some common conditions include:
making regular meetings with a probation officer,
performing community service hours,
submitting to drug and/or alcohol tests, and
completing a rehabilitation program.
Note that you are not entitled to probation. Rather, if awarded by a judge, it is considered an act of grace by the court system.2
Parole refers to the conditional release from prison or jail where you serve the remainder of your confinement time in the community. Parolees are released after serving a large portion of their sentences.3
Parole is a “conditional release” because, as with probation, you must follow certain conditions of parole, like:
passing random drug tests,
agreeing to certain travel restrictions, and
making regular meetings with a parole officer.
Parole is typically granted by a board of parole. Parolees are supervised by a parole officer during the term of their parole.4
Parole is usually awarded in felony cases after you serve most of your state prison sentence.
As with probation, you do not have a right to parole. It is given as an act of leniency.
3. What are the rules on eligibility?
In deciding on whether to grant probation, a court will consider:
the nature and circumstances of your offense,
your criminal record,
your threat to the community, and
your need for probation.5
A parole board will usually consider the following when deciding on whether to grant you early release from your jail time or prison time:
evidence of your good behavior while in custody,
your desire to be a productive member of society,
whether parole would be in the interest of criminal justice,
your threat to public safety, and
whether you have rehabilitated yourself.6
4. What happens if you violate probation?
The criminal laws of most states say that you commit a probation violation if you break one of your probation terms (for example, by failing a drug test).7
A former Los Angeles prosecutor, attorney Neil Shouse graduated with honors from UC Berkeley and Harvard Law School (and completed additional graduate studies at MIT). He has been featured on CNN, Good Morning America, Dr Phil, The Today Show and Court TV. Mr Shouse has been recognized by the National Trial Lawyers as one of the Top 100 Criminal and Top 100 Civil Attorneys.