What is the Difference Between Probation and Parole?

If you’re wondering what the difference is between probation and parole, you’re not alone. In the world of law and justice, there is a lot of information to try to understand. And unless you’re involved in a career that allows you to understand the jargon and the way the legal system works, you could find it hard to easily understand this complex world. The information in this article can help you understand the differences between the two and the definitions of these two commonly used legal actions.


Probation is typically given as a form of punishment in lieu of serving jail or prison time. This type of criminal sentence lets the person being sentenced stay in their community instead of serving time, remaining free as long as the terms of their probation are being met.

Related resource: Top 10 Online Paralegal Degree Programs

Conditions of a person’s probation can vary by state, situation, and person. Usually, the offender meets with a probation officer that is assigned by the city or state. These meetings are typically on a regular schedule. Conditions of probation can include (but are not limited to) refraining from alcohol or drug use, continuing schooling or maintaining employment, and not changing residence (especially across state lines).

The conditions of probation will vary based mostly on the crime committed and the offender’s criminal history, but other facts and circumstances are always considered. If the offender violates their probation they could very easily be sent to jail for a period of time; usually a shorter amount of time than the original sentence term.


Parole doesn’t keep an offender from earning a jail or prison sentence. Rather, parole is the supervised release of the offender from a jail or prison sentence. Parole involves releasing an offender into the community before their original jail term is up. For example, a person could be served with 3 years of jail time, but be released after 2 years on parole.

Usually if an offender is released from jail or prison on parole, there are terms and conditions similar to probation. An offender must meet with a parole officer on a regular schedule, similar to a probation officer. The terms of parole are typically very similar to the terms of probation. Terms usually regard alcohol/drug use, remaining at the same residence, and maintaining regular employment. There are of course other terms depending on the offender’s prior convictions and the nature of their jail/prison time.

In addition to having a parole officer, the offender will also have a parole board attached to their case. This board makes the decision to release the offender from jail and also makes the decision to send the offender back to jail or prison. If an offender violates the conditions of their parole, the consequences tend to be a little different than a probation violator. While someone who violates their probation will likely receive a new sentencing that would send them to jail, parole offenders are typically sent back to jail or prison to serve out the remainder of their original sentence.

Probation and parole can be very confusing terms. The definitions and terms of each can vary greatly; by location, history, and nature of the crime. Hopefully the information in this article can make navigating these two terms easier by using less legal jargon and more day-to-day terms. Please feel free to continue your research on the differences between probation and parole with any of the included sources within this article.