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How does probation differ from parole?

Probation and parole both start with the letter "p," but there are more similarities still.One in 31 U.S. adults are behind bars, or on parole or probation. A judge might decide that probation is a good starting option for you. Or, a parole board might see it fit to grant you parole. For someone convicted of a crime, good behavior could be their ticket to less time behind bars. But which happens when, and what's the difference?


To some, probation is more of a threat. If a person is found guilty of a crime, sometimes they are put on probation so they can stay in their community. This happens prior to prison time, and you might not even step foot in a cell after the fact. Judges may offer this period of supervision following a sentence as an alternative to imprisonment. This gives you an opportunity to live in the community while you do some - or all - of you time.

You might finish your sentence under supervision or sent to prison under the initial crime or probation violation. The conditions of probation vary case to case. You may be required to participate in rehab, monthly drug tests and/or curfew rules. Probation is not for everyone. Probation fines can get costly, and it just might not be beneficial to the person.


You might be released early on parole after completing a part of your sentence. Parole is basically conditional freedom for someone who has spent time in prison. During this time, you will be under the supervision of a parole officer. There will be a list of rules and conditions you must follow.

The conditions might require you stay at a halfway house or continue paying fines. Usually when your parole time is up, your sentence is over. Parole is a reintegration into society. If all is well, you most likely won't have to go back.

Similarities and differences between probation and parole

Probation and parole are both alternatives to time in prison. The main differences are:

  • Probation happens prior to a sentence, while parole occurs after.
  • You don't get credit for your time while on probation.
  • Parole tends to follow the length of the original sentence and counts as the time of their sentence.
  • Parole is for people who have already started to serve their sentence, or finished.

Similarities of probation and parole:

  • Supervision is required.
  • You must follow certain guidelines and conditions.
  • Both offer a chance of rehabilitation.
  • The same person who managed your probation could be the same one who manages your parole.
  • With the right representation and overall behavior, your time can be shorter for both.

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