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The Difference Between Probation and Parole

Probation and parole are critical components of the criminal justice system in Rhode Island, each serving distinct but complementary roles in managing offenders and promoting public safety. Both probation and parole in Rhode Island are designed to integrate offenders back into society responsibly, emphasizing accountability, rehabilitation, and the prevention of future offenses while also considering the safety and concerns of the community.

Probation and parole are two critical components of the criminal justice system, designed to offer alternatives to incarceration. Although both probation and parole in Rhode Island involve supervision over individuals convicted of crimes, they differ significantly in their purpose, timing, and the legal process involved.

Characteristics Of, As Well As Differences Between, Parole and Probation

Probation is a court-ordered period of supervision in the community, typically as an alternative to incarceration. It is often granted to individuals convicted of misdemeanors or non-violent felonies, allowing them to remain in the community under certain conditions. Probation aims to rehabilitate the offender, prevent recidivism, and ensure public safety by imposing conditions like regular check-ins with a probation officer, drug testing, community service, or attendance at rehabilitation programs.

Parole, on the other hand, is the conditional release of a prisoner from incarceration to community supervision before the completion of their maximum sentence. A prisoner is granted parole based on his behavior and rehabilitation while incarcerated to reintegrate him into society. Conditions like probation are typically imposed, and the parolee must meet regularly with a parole officer.

  • Legal Process and Authority: The legal processes and authorities involved in probation and parole differ significantly. Probation is ordered directly by the courts. When a person is convicted of a crime, the judge may sentence them to probation as an alternative to jail or prison time. The judge sets the conditions of probation. These conditions are tailored to the individual and their offense. Parole, on the other hand, involves a decision by a parole board or similar authority, not a judge. In Rhode Island, the Parole Board assesses the inmates’ readiness for release on parole, considering factors such as behavior in prison, participation in rehabilitation programs, and the inmate’s plan for reintegration into the community.
  • Timing Of Parole vs. Probation: The timing of probation and parole also distinguishes them. Probation typically occurs instead of incarceration. A person sentenced to probation will generally only serve time in prison if they violate the conditions of their probation. Parole occurs after a person has served part of their prison sentence. It is a mechanism for early release based on specific criteria, including good behavior and the perceived likelihood of successful reintegration into society.

Violations of Probation Vs. Parole

Violations of the conditions of probation or parole can lead to severe consequences. For probation violations, the court may summon the individual, and the judge will decide on the appropriate action, ranging from imposing additional conditions to ordering the individual to serve the original jail or prison sentence. For parole violations, the parolee may be subject to a hearing before the Parole Board or a similar authority, which can result in the parole revocation and the individual returning to prison to serve the remainder of their sentence.


In Rhode Island, as in other jurisdictions, probation and parole serve as critical components of the criminal justice system, offering alternatives to incarceration and chances for rehabilitation. While both involve supervision and conditions imposed on individuals convicted of crimes, they differ fundamentally in their purpose, timing, legal process, and the bodies of authorities concerned. Suppose you have been sentenced to probation instead of jail time or released from prison and on parole. In that case, you must know the circumstances and responsibilities that accompany these freedoms. Palumbo Law can counsel you if you need legal advice concerning your situation.  We have experienced criminal law attorneys who can ensure you understand your rights. Contact us today.