What is the Difference Between Probation and Parole?

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Jail and Prison are words that people often get confused. They are not the same thing, but sometimes in conversation they are treated as if they are.

The same is true of “Probation” and “Parole”. They sound similar, look similar, have the same letters, involve the criminal justice system, and are often treated in conversation as if they are the same thing. They are not.

Probation is Judicial Supervision in Place of a Possible Jail Sentence.

Probation is a second chance at freedom. Generally, probation comes with a set of orders from the court that the defendant must comply with to avoid a jail sentence that could be imposed. The court supervises the Probationer’s behavior for a period of time, monitors compliance with court orders such as “pay a fine and complete AB 548 Classes”, and holds a jail sentence over the probationer’s head the whole time.

If the defendant completes probation successfully, he/she can usually avoid jail altogether. It varies from location to location, but that is the general rule.

For example, in a typical simple misdemeanor First Offense driving under the influence charge, the court may offer the otherwise good behaved defendant a term of probation with a “suspended” jail sentence in place of an actual jail sentence. The “suspended” jail sentence is then never carried out if probation is completed without violations.

Parole, on the other hand, is Court and Community Supervision Following a Term of Incarceration.

Parole is different than probation because it typically happens AFTER a period of serious lock up. Usually, parole follows a Prison Term (not county jail).

Parole conditions are often much more harsh and intrusive than typical misdemeanor probation terms. For example, a parolee may be ordered to do weekly drug testing, may be subject to unannounced home searches, and may have to register with public criminal databases.

Parole will often involve a specific Parole Officer who actively monitors the parolee in person. This may entail visits and searches at the parolee’s home and place of work, regular appointments in court, and may also restrict a person’s right to vote or travel.

In contrast, a person on misdemeanor is not subject to that level of intrusion.

And there is one other difference. If a probationer violates probation, they face jail time. If a parolee violates parole, they face a return to prison.

Questions? Leave a Reply.


Travis County, TX Adult Probation Department;
State of Connecticut Adult Probation Services FAQ;
Fresno County Adult Probation Services;

About Attorney Christopher Dort

Public Interest Attorney. CA State Bar #196832. Licensed to practice law in California 1998, and then the US Federal District Court in 2000. Civil Litigation Trial Attorney (Insurance Defense Firms) 2000-2003. Private practice 2003 - present. First Solo Criminal Jury Trial 1998 (Santa Cruz County). First Civil Jury Trial 2002 (Orange County). Santa Cruz County Public Defenders Office 1996-1999 (law clerk). BA in Politics from UC Santa Cruz, 1995. JD, University of California, Hastings, 1998.
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