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Similarities and differences between probation and parole

When you read about criminal trials in the newspaper, on television or online, you might come across the terms probation and parole. These two terms might seem to be similar in some ways, but they are actually very different terms. It is important for our Maryland readers to know the ways they are the same and the ways they are different.

Probation and parole are similar in one major way. Both refer to methods of criminal justice that involve supervision of the person who was convicted of a crime. This supervision is done by probation officers and parole officers. While the person is being monitored, he or she is allowed to be out and about in the community.

Probation and parole both have requirements attached to them. Paying fines, remaining drug and alcohol free, meeting with their supervising officer, holding a job and living in an approved residence are usually required. Failing to comply with the conditions can lead to incarceration.

The main difference between probation and parole is that probation is usually a primary sentence, while parole is usually a secondary sentence. Probation is usually ordered by the court instead of incarceration. In some cases, a person might be ordered to serve a short incarceration period followed by a probation sentence, which is known as a split sentence,

In the case of parole, the person is initially sentenced to prison. A parole board then determines if the person is suitable to be released into the community. This is only done after the person has served a minimum incarceration sentence. Not all people convicted of crimes are eligible for parole.

Anyone who is sentenced to probation or allowed to parole out of prison should make sure he or she understands the terms of the program. If you end up violating those terms, you will likely face new charges in court. Understanding your rights and responsibilities at that point is vital.

Source: Bureau of Justice Statistics, "What is the difference between probation and parole?" accessed Feb. 03, 2015

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