What’s the Difference Between Probation and Parole?

The biggest difference between probation and parole is that someone convicted of a crime who is sentenced to probation avoids being incarcerated, while someone who has served part of a prison sentence may be eligible for parole and be released. In both cases the person lives in the community under supervision with limitations and restrictions. A sentence of probation is imposed by a judge; Kentucky’s parole board decides whether a convict should go on parole.

Parole and probation are major components of the state’s criminal justice system. Kentucky’s Division of Probation and Parole’s 631 officers supervised 46,349 offenders, as of December 2014. Though conditions on parolees and those on probation may be difficult, it’s a much better alternative to being incarcerated.

Whether a person is eligible for parole is established by Kentucky statute and regulation.

  • Violent offenders need to serve 85% of their sentence before they become eligible for parole.
  • Many of those convicted of being a persistent felony offender aren’t eligible until they serve at least ten years of their sentence.
  • Sex offenders aren’t eligible until they finish a sex-offender treatment program administered by the Department of Corrections.
  • All other felons serving time in prison become eligible for parole after serving 20% of their sentence.

Simply being eligible for parole doesn’t mean a person will be granted parole. Parole hearings are conducted by the Kentucky’s Board of Parole. There must be at least two board members present for a decision to be made. Most of the hearings are done through video conferencing and are open to the public.

When considering whether or not a person should be paroled, the board may reach one of several decisions:

  • The inmate will spend the rest of the sentence in prison,
  • A period of time (months or years) needs to pass before the inmate will again become eligible for parole, or
  • The person will be granted parole.

When deciding whether or not a person will be granted parole, a number of issues are considered, including:

  • The seriousness of the offense
  • Prior criminal convictions
  • Adjustment to incarceration
  • Feelings toward authority
  • History of alcohol or drug use
  • History of prior probation
  • Past probation or parole violations
  • Education and job skills
  • Job history
  • Emotional stability
  • Mental capacities
  • Overall health or illness
  • Past deviant behavior
  • Attitudes of officials and community members about accepting the person back into the community
  • Statements of the victims
  • Parole plan (home and job placement, and need for community treatment and follow up).

Probation is the suspension of a jail sentence which permits a person convicted of a crime to remain in the community instead of being incarcerated. The person must follow given rules and conditions and pay certain fines and fees while under the supervision of a probation officer.

Conditions can include:

  • Meeting with the probation officer
  • Appearing in court as necessary
  • Paying fines or restitution to victims
  • Avoiding certain people and places
  • Not traveling out of state without the permission of the probation officer
  • Obeying all laws
  • Not using illegal drug or excessively drinking alcohol
  • Drug or alcohol testing.

Normally the conditions are related to the type of offense involved. You may be required to submit to drug testing or attend drug rehabilitation if you’re convicted of a drug-related offense or pay restitution after a conviction for a theft- or fraud-related crime.

If you live in Kentucky and need help because you or a family member are facing criminal charges, contact our office so we can discuss the situation, how the law may be applied and how probation or parole may play a part in case of a conviction.