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Probation and Parole

Probation and parole are both alternatives to incarceration. And offenders placed on probation or parole are required to follow certain conditions. However, probation and parole have significantly different functions in the criminal justice system.

Probation is a type of criminal sentence that allows an offender to remain in the community (as opposed to being in jail). Typically, when a defendant is convicted of a crime and sentenced to probation, the judge “suspends” the jail sentence while the defendant is on probation. As long as the conditions of probation are being met, the offender is allowed to remain out of jail.

There are two types of probation: formal and informal. Formal probation is sometimes referred to as “supervised probation” and typically requires the offender to report to a probation officer. Formal probation is generally imposed for all felony and some misdemeanor convictions. Informal probation—which is typically imposed only in misdemeanor cases—is sometimes referred to as “bench probation” or “court probation” and requires the offender to report directly to the court, instead of a probation officer.An offender on informal probation is generally required to report to the court only to make payments for fines and fees, submit proof of completion of probation requirements (such as community service hours or treatment), and to update a change of address.

Paroleis the supervised release of an inmate from prison into the community. Generally, the time the offender spends on parole is considered part of the sentence. Inmates may be released on parole by a parole board decision, known as “discretionary parole,” or according to the requirements of a statute, known as “mandatory parole.” Generally, offenders serve a significant portion of their sentence incarcerated before being eligible for release on parole. A parolee usually reports to a parole officer who monitors the parolee’s progress in fulfilling the conditions of parole.

The main purpose of parole is to help the parolee successfully reintegrate into the community after serving time in prison. To achieve this purpose, most parole systems aim to rehabilitate offenders while providing safety to the community.

Conditions of Parole and Probation

Whether placed on probation or parole, the offender is required to follow certain rules known as “conditions” or “terms” of probation or parole. Generally, the conditions of probation are similar to the conditions of parole. However, probation conditions come from the court, while parole conditions come from the parole board or department of corrections. Typical conditions include requiring the probationer or parolee to:

  • report as required and obey all directions of the supervising probation or parole officer;
  • pay supervision fees, fines, and victim restitution;
  • not use or possess controlled substances and submit to testing for controlled substance or alcohol use;
  • complete a substance abuse evaluation and follow the recommendations of the evaluator;
  • complete community service work;
  • not leave the state without permission;
  • find and maintain employment and/or schooling;
  • not change employment or residence without permission;
  • consent to the search of person, vehicle, and residence;
  • obey all laws and truthfully answer all questions by the probation or parole officer, and
  • not possess any weapons.

Probation and parole conditions vary depending on the jurisdiction and nature of the offense. Some offenses require offenders to adhere to additional conditions. For example, a defendant convicted of molesting a child might be required to report as a sex offender, complete sex offender treatment, and stay away from areas where children typically congregate (such as parks, schools, and playgrounds).

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