Is There a Difference Between Probation and Parole?

Yes. Many people interchangeably use probation and parole, but there are important differences between the two.

1. Probation refers to an adult offender whom the court places on community supervision, generally instead of incarceration.

  • A jurisdiction may sentence the offender to a short jail or prison term combined with an immediate probation term. This is called a split sentence.
  • Probation may have a variety of supervisory statuses, e.g. “active supervision,” (the probationer must regularly report to his or her community supervision officer by telephone, mail, or face-to-face), or “inactive supervision” (the probationer is excluded from the need to regularly report because he or she was convicted or a minimal offense, have just financial conditions to be fulfilled, have active warrants, or have absconded).
  • While on probation, the offender is required to satisfy specific conditions of supervision, e.g. complete his or her mandated participation in a treatment program, pay fines, court costs, or fees, or comply with certain rules of conduct in the community.
  • Failure to comply with the probationer’s specific terms and conditions (T&Cs) may result in incarceration.
  • The condition of probation differs according to the accused and his or her criminal offense and may encompass community service, reporting to a probation officer, fines, counseling, restrictions (e.g. alcohol and drug use or possession), etc.

2. Parole refers to an offender granted conditional release from prison in order to serve the remainder of his or her sentence in a community.

  • The offender is typically released to parole by a decision of the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles or via statute provisions.
  • Different supervision statuses of parolees include “active supervision,” (the parolee must report to his or her probation officer in a face-to-face meeting, by phone or mail) or “inactive supervision” (a reduced level of supervision resulting from his or her having met all required conditions prior to the parole termination, or a parolee with only financial obligations remaining, or a parolee with active warrants or a parolee who has absconded).
  • If the probationer fails to comply with any of the specific T&Cs of his or her parole, he or she may be returned to incarceration.

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Differences between Probation and Parole in Texas

Both probation and parole are incarceration-alternatives:

  • Probation occurs before or instead of prison or jail time.
  • Parole involves the early release from prison. The probationer or parolee is supervised and must follow specific guidelines, sometimes referred to as probation conditions or conditions of parole. In either circumstance, the offender must submit to a warrantless search, even when no probable cause exists.

Common Conditions of Probation

Although an offender isn’t in jail, he or she is often subject to similar conditions of serving a jail sentence, including 1) abiding by curfews, 2) mandated participation in a rehab program, or 3) drug tests (urinalysis) on a regular or frequent basis.

On probation, the defendant will be required to pay any outstanding court-appointed lawyer fees, fines, court costs, or restitution to the victim(s).

Probation can last one to 10 years. The probationer is managed by his or her probation officer. The officer monitors the offender’s progress in the community, files regular reports to a judge, and advises the probationer of his or her non-compliance regarding T&Cs.

If the probationer’s judge is unhappy with his or her performance in the community, a capiasmay be issued to require the defendant’s return to court for final sentencing. Thereafter, the defendant must serve his or her sentence behind bars. If the offender was free on a suspended prison term, the court will often send him or her straight to prison in order to serve the sentence.

Common Conditions of Parole

In addition to regular reporting to the parolee’s community supervision officer in Texas, he or she is usually required to 1) abstain from using or possessing illegal drugs and intoxicants, 2) remain in the state or county without written permission from the community supervision officer, 3) prevent contact with other persons on parole or inmates at a penal institution, 4) refrain from associating with individuals with criminal records or those involved in criminal activities, 5) permit visits from the community supervision officer into the residence, workplace, or as required, 6) notify the community supervision officer about employment, residence, and marital status changes, 7) perform any instructions provided by the community supervision officer, 8) not own or possess a firearm, 9) work in a lawful job and/or support dependents without the aid of public assistance, 10) make payments to defray the cost of the parolee’s supervision, and 11) comply with all/any conditions set forth by the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles or community supervision officer.

Gang Members on Probation or Parole

Gang members may be required to 1) avoid communications or contact with specifically named people, e.g. other members of the gang, 2) avoid going to certain places, e.g. gang hangouts, 3) avoid making graffiti, putting up or throwing signs, or wearing clothes/accessories symbolizing membership in a gang. If the gang member has a tattoo, it may be necessary to use camouflage or remove the tattoo.

Differences of Probation and Parole in Texas

Both probation and parole are intended to help the offender to break bad habits and/or behaviors that initially caused him or her to break the law. Both have strong rehabilitation components, but each has the overarching goal of protection of the members of the community. An offender’s T&Cs may be changed or amended over time.

Here’s how probation and parole differ:

  • Parole’s added function is the attempt of reintegrating the offender into the social structure.
  • An offender on probation is typically subject to the court’s jurisdiction. The judge can modify or amend the offender’s T&Cs as needed. Changes are likely to come in an order intended to modify the offender’s T&Cs.
  • Parole changes don’t usually occur by court order. The parole board sets T&Cs. The parolee is routinely banned from breaking the law and/or committing any new offense. Changes in the parolee’s T&Cs or procedures relating to the T&Cs come from the parole board or the parolee’s parole officer after an administrative proceeding. Note that the defendant has higher state and federal protections in the original criminal case than at a later administrative hearing.
  • The engagement of an experienced Texas parole attorney is advised for the parolee subject to an administrative hearing.

Parole Violation Consequences

When the offender doesn’t comply with his or her parole T&Cs, it’s possible to be brought before the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles to consider the consequences:

  • The Board may revoke parole and order the offender to return to prison in order to finish his or her sentence (without consideration of the time spent on parole).
  • The Board can reinstate the defendant’s parole and allow him or her to continue.
  • A jury trial isn’t an option. Unlike a probation term, the parole cap usually follows the original sentence. For instance, if the offender was sentenced to 30 years behind bars, then he or she may be on and off the parole sentence for up to 30 years.

Summarizing the Differences between Probation and Parole


Probation refers to a sentence given to an offender in which he or she remains out of prison, under the supervision of an officer, and required to follow rules established by the court.
  • Parole is the “before time” release of the offender, on conditions that he or she remains under the supervision of the community and that detention is resumed if he or she fails to comply with the specific terms and conditions of parole.
  • Probation is granted by a judge (instead of jail or prison). Parole is a conditional release from the offender’s time behind bars.
  • Parole is granted by the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles. The Parole Board continues to make decisions regarding the offender’s parole, along with his or her parole officer.
  • Probation is granted to the offender before the period of incarceration. Instead of sending him or her directly to jail, he or she has the chance to rehabilitate through the process.
  • Parole is granted after the offender completes a certain part of his or her term in prison.
  • Probation is generally awarded to a person with no prior criminal history and if the crime doesn’t involve violence.
  • Parole is granted to an offender already serving a sentence. It is available to certain serious offenders who demonstrate good conduct during the service of a sentence.
  • An individual granted probation is required to report to his or her probation officer. Failure to report may result in resentencing for a period of time.
  • A parolee must report to his or her parole officer (community service officer). Failure to report as required and without reasonable cause may be grounds for re-incarceration.

Protecting Your Rights

The defendant should engage an experienced parole lawyer when he or she is facing any parole issue. Effective legal counsel may be invaluable in assisting with the possible revocation of parole.

Protections and constitutional procedures guiding parole revocation are less than in an original criminal defense trial. Because less “built-in” protections exist, the defendant needs the external protection of a knowledgeable Texas parole lawyer more than ever.

If you or someone you love is facing a serious crime, parole administrative hearing, or probation violation, contact The Law Office of Matthew D. Sharp in Houston at 713-868-6100 to schedule an initial case evaluation.

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