Probation vs Parole: Legal Definition, Conditions, Supervision and Violation

What Is The Difference Between Probation and Parole?

Probation is a court-imposed alternative to incarceration where offenders serve their sentence under community supervision, while parole is the conditional release of an inmate from prison before their sentence is fully served.

Probation vs Parole: When discussing the criminal justice system, the terms “probation and parole” are often used interchangeably. While both concepts involve the supervision of offenders in a community setting as opposed to incarceration, they are distinct processes with different origins, purposes, and legal implications.

Probation vs Parole - Incarceration - criminal offence - criminal law

Origins and Purposes of Probation and Parole


  • Origin: Probation originates at the trial level. It is a sentencing alternative that a judge may impose in lieu of, or in addition to, incarceration.
  • Purpose: Probation allows the offender to serve all or part of their sentence under community supervision. This approach is often viewed as a more rehabilitative option, with the belief that offenders might benefit more from community-based services and programs than from incarceration.


  • Origin: Parole originates from the correctional system. After serving a portion of their prison sentence, an inmate may be released on parole before the end of their maximum sentence.
  • Purpose: The main aim of parole is to reintegrate offenders back into society gradually. They have already been punished via incarceration, and parole provides them with an opportunity to prove they can adhere to societal norms and rules.

Granting Authority for Probation and Parole


  • Authority: A judge at the time of sentencing typically grants probation. The judge sets the conditions that the offender must meet.


  • Authority: Parole is generally granted by a parole board, which assesses whether the inmate is ready for conditional release based on factors like behavior in prison, the nature of the crime, and potential risk to the community.

Conditions and Supervision of Offenders on Probation and Parole

Both probation and parole come with a set of conditions. Some standard conditions include:

  • Reporting to a probation or parole officer at set times
  • Not committing another crime
  • Maintaining employment or seeking education
  • Avoiding certain individuals or locations
  • Submitting to drug or alcohol tests


  • Supervision: Offenders on probation are supervised by probation officers. These officers ensure compliance with the set conditions and can recommend adjustments to those conditions or even revocation of probation if necessary.


  • Supervision: Parolees are supervised by parole officers. These officers play a similar role to probation officers but cater to individuals who have been released from prison.



The length of probation is determined at the time of sentencing. It could range from several months to several years, depending on the nature of the offense and the judge’s decision.


The length of parole is often determined by the amount of time remaining on an individual’s sentence at the time of release and other factors considered by the parole board.

Consequences of Violating a Probation or Parole


If an individual violates the terms of their probation, they could face a range of consequences, including:

  • Modified probation terms
  • Imposition of additional penalties (like fines or community service)
  • Incarceration


Parole violations can result in:

  • Modified parole conditions
  • Return to prison to serve the remainder or a portion of the original sentence
  • New charges, if a new crime was committed

Probation vs Parole Compared

OriginTrial level as a sentencing alternativeCorrectional system after serving part of sentence
PurposeServe sentence under community supervisionGradual reintegration into society after prison
AuthorityGranted by a judge at sentencingGranted by a parole board
DurationDetermined at sentencingBased on remaining time of original sentence
ViolationCan result in modified terms or incarcerationCan lead to return to prison or modified terms
Difference between Probation and Parole

Is Travel Allowed While On Probation And Parole?

Travel while on probation or parole is generally restricted. For probationers, any travel outside their jurisdiction usually requires permission from their probation officer. Parolees also face travel limitations, particularly for destinations outside their residing state.

Both probation and parole conditions often include regular check-ins, which further complicate extended travel. However, with compelling reasons and a history of compliance, individuals might obtain travel permissions.

How Does Probation And Parole End?

Probation and parole serve as alternatives to incarceration, allowing offenders to live in the community under specific conditions. Probation typically concludes when the individual successfully completes the duration and terms set by the court. This includes meeting all obligations, such as attending counseling or paying fines.

On the other hand, parole ends when the parolee fulfils the remainder of their original prison sentence while abiding by the conditions set by the parole board. For both, early termination is possible with exemplary behaviour and fulfilment of conditions. However, violations can lead to extensions, revocations, or even incarceration, depending on the severity of the breach.

What’s The Difference Between Discretionary And Mandatory Parole?

Discretionary parole is granted based on a decision by a parole board after evaluating factors like an inmate’s behaviour, nature of the crime, and potential risk to the community. Mandatory parole, on the other hand, is automatic after an inmate serves a predetermined portion of their sentence. It’s not based on an evaluative decision by the parole board but rather on statutory provisions.

Conclusion: Probation vs Parole

While probation and parole share similarities, primarily revolving around community supervision, they are distinct stages within the criminal justice system. Probation acts as an alternative to incarceration at the sentencing phase, aiming at rehabilitation within the community. In contrast, parole comes after incarceration, focusing on a gradual reintegration of the offender back into society.

Both, however, play a crucial role in balancing punishment with rehabilitation, ensuring public safety while giving offenders a chance at redemption.

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