What’s the Difference Between Probation and Parole?

by | May 13, 2008

“What’s the difference between probation and parole?” This is a frequently asked question that many of my clients ask.

Both probation and parole permit an individual to serve their sentence, or a portion of their sentence, in the community, instead of in jail, which many people find attractive. Also, probation and parole are both considered acts of mercy by a sentencing judge or the parole board.

Probation is one form of punishment available to a judge when sentencing an individual for committing a crime. That is, it is an option for a sentencing judge to consider when fashioning punishment. A sentence of probation can be imposed at sentencing, and if someone violates the conditions of probation while on probation, the sentencing judge can revoke probation and re-sentence that person.

Parole, however, is an early release from a sentence that was previously imposed. Pennsylvania has what is called an indeterminate sentencing scheme. What that means is that when a judge sentences someone to incarceration, he or she has to set forth a minimum and maximum term of incarceration, where the maximum term of incarceration must be at least double of the minimum.

For example, if a judge wants to sentence someone to incarceration, it may be from 3 to 6 months’ incarceration, or maybe 3 to 12 months’ incarceration. It could not be from 3-5 months’ incarceration because 5 months is not at least double 3 months. In general, convicted offenders are eligible for parole after the minimum term has been served. If a person serves his or her minimum time of incarceration and is paroled and violates the conditions of parole, that person can be ordered to serve the remaining unexpired balance of the original sentence.

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