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What is the Difference Between Probation and Parole?

What is means to be on probation versus parole

Probation is a period of time served in lieu of jail time or commencing after release from custody.

  • Probation can often be used as a replacement of jail or prison time.
  • It allows a person to stay in the community rather than serve time in prison as long as he/she complies with the terms and conditions of probation.
  • Probation conditions can include anything from reporting to a probation officer, taking drug tests, getting a job, curfews, attending counseling or classes, search clauses, prohibition on weapons, and more.
  • Probation gives the probationer an opportunity to show that they can remain out of custody without need for further punishment or incarceratory time.
  • If he/she does everything listed in the conditions, then he/she will not be sent to jail.
  • If the judge determines that the defendant has unsuccessfully performed the terms of probation then he/she can sentence the defendant up to the maximum amount of time remaining on their sentence that has not been served in custody.

For example: A defendant is convicted of a 1st DUI offense.  A DUI has a maximum penalty of 6 months in county jail. Rather than going to county jail for 6 months the defendant receives credit for time served of the one night they spent in custody and gets placed on probation.  This leaves 179 days towards the 180 days maximum that the defendant did not serve in custody.  If the defendant violates their probation then they can be sentenced up to the additional 179 days that they did not serve.

Parole: after convicted of a felony crime and serving time in state prison an inmate can be released from custody and placed under the supervision of a parole officer. The inmate will then be referred to as a “parolee” and will be required to comply with specific terms and conditions of parole including but not limited to: reporting to a parole office, subjecting their person, vehicle, and home to search, restrictions on areas of visitation and items in their possession, random drug testing and more.  If the parolee fails to follow the conditions, then parole can be revoked and the parolee can serve additional time in custody.

The primary difference between probation and parole is the length of the supervision and the amount of supervision. Probation can be informal or formal up to 5 years while parole is supervised and can last up anywhere from 3-5-10 years or even life depending on the crime. Informal probation does not require reporting to a probation officer rather it is up to the probationer to stay out of trouble and comply with the terms – so long as they do so then their probation will expire naturally. Formal probation and parole requires actual reporting and check in with a supervising officer – there is a higher level of accountability required.

If you have questions about parole or probation or are curious about the relief available to you for terminating your supervision early contact The Nieves Law Firm in Oakland, CA for a free consultation at (510)-588-8580.

Author Bio

Jo-Anna Nieves is the Founder and Managing Attorney of The Nieves Law Firm, an Oakland criminal defense law firm she created in 2012. With more than 11 years of experience in criminal defense, she has zealously represented clients in a wide range of legal matters, including DUIs, domestic violence, expungement, federal crimes, juvenile law, motions to vacate, sex crimes, violent crimes, and other criminal charges.

Jo-Anna received her Juris Doctor from the Florida State University College of Law and is a member of the State Bar of California. She has received numerous accolades for her work, including being named a Super Lawyer Rising Star the past 8 years, the #12 Fastest Growing Law Firm in the U.S. by Law Firm 500 in 2019, and one of the fastest growing companies in the U.S. by Inc 5000 in 2023.

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