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What are the differences between parole and probation?

Many people may have heard the terms parole and probation and wondered what each refers to and what the differences between the two are. Parole and probation have some similarities and some differences. Probation is generally used instead of incarceration and includes supervision in the community and through a probation agency for a party convicted of a crime. Probation, however, can also be sentenced following a short period of incarceration.

Probation can carry different statuses including active or inactive supervision status. During active supervision, the party on probation is required to regularly report to a probation authority by mail, telephone or in person. During inactive supervision, the party on probation may not have to regularly report. The level of supervision varies and a party on probation may be immediately placed on inactive status if the offense they were convicted of is not considered serious.

There can be additional probation statuses as well. Parties on probation are often required to fulfill conditions of probation and comply with certain rules. Conditions can include the payments of fees, fines, court costs or participation in a treatment program. Failure to comply with conditions of probation may result in the party on probation being incarcerated.

Parole refers to when the convicted party is released from prison based on certain conditions. The party on parole is permitted to serve the rest of their sentence in the community. The parole board or laws may allow for the convicted party to be placed on parole. Similarly to probation, individuals on parole may be on active or inactive supervision and may be moved from active to inactive supervision. Individuals on parole are also required to fulfill conditions of parole and comply with certain rules. Failure to comply with conditions of parole may result in the party on parole being returned to incarceration. It is important for any party on probation or parole to be familiar with the terms of their probation or parole and to also be familiar with their rights and what to do if accused of a probation or parole violation.

Source: Bureau of Justice Statistics, "What is the difference between probation and parole?" Accessed Oct. 6, 2015

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