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Probation vs. Parole  

Posted on June 19th, 2017

In a criminal case, a judge can use probation or parole to allow people convicted of a crime the opportunity to avoid prison or leave prison earlier than the full term of the sentence. Probation and parole are two entirely separate allowances, but both are meant to help ease the transition back into society and minimize the odds of committing another offense. Learn the differences between probation and parole and what they each might mean for someone’s future.


Probation sentences will only arise in certain circumstances. Probation involves highly specific terms and conditions the defendant must obey or else face consequences more serious than probation, such as jail time. Probation comes in lieu of a jail sentence, allowing the convicted person to stay in the community (with limits) instead of in a jail cell. Someone under probation will have an appointed probation officer, in charge of making sure the individual obeys the rules of the probation period. During probation, a person might have responsibilities such as:

  • Performing community service
  • Meeting with the probation officer at set times and dates
  • Appearing at any scheduled court dates
  • Submitting to drug and alcohol tests
  • Not traveling out of state without permission
  • Avoiding certain places or people
  • Paying fines

The terms will vary depending on the circumstances of the crime. For example, someone guilty of a drug-related crime may have to submit to periodic drug tests. Someone found guilty of a sex crime may have to stay away from a certain location or person. Probation can last any amount of time. The sentence depends on the nature of the offense and the related Pennsylvania laws. Probation can last one to three years or longer.

Violating the terms of probation can result in a warning or a probation violation hearing. At this hearing, a judge can order additional probation terms, fines, or jail time. It is possible to appeal a probation violation conviction, if you can prove that the court made an error. In some cases, a judge may allow an early end to probation. During probation, the individual stays out of jail altogether. Parole, on the other hand, involves the individual first doing some jail or prison time.


A judge may order jail time “with a chance of parole” in certain criminal cases. This means that after the person has served a portion of his or her sentence, he/she will be eligible for a review by the parole board. The parole board will consider the nature of the initial offense, the length of time served, and the inmate’s regret for committing the crime. Parole is a privilege only given to those who have committed certain types of crimes, such as non-violent crimes. Simple good behavior is not enough to permit a criminal parole.

Parole is similar to probation in that the defendant has to obey strict rules or else face penalties. During parole, an inmate returns to the community on the grounds that he or she will pay related fines, not possess controlled substances, submit to drug and alcohol tests, remain in the state unless given permission otherwise, find gainful employment, not possess any weapons, and obey all laws. Breaking any terms of parole can lead to additional terms, fines, and jail time.

To a convicted criminal facing potential jail time, both probation and parole are positive things. However, it is up to the individual to dutifully obey all the terms, rules, and conditions of the probation or parole. Otherwise, you could make your situation worse and lose the opportunity for such allowances in the future. For questions or concerns regarding a specific probation or parole sentence, speak to a criminal defense attorney in West Chester.