Probation vs. Parole: What's the Difference?

Brandon Bullard
March 7, 2022

Probation and parole are two legal terms commonly used interchangeably by non-lawyers, but these terms are significantly different. If you are convicted of a crime in Georgia, parole and probation are two legal possibilities that may impact your life in various ways.

So, what is the difference between parole and probation? Is one better than the other? What do you need to qualify for each? How significant are they to your case, and how can a Georgia appeals attorney help? Let's take a look.

What is Probation?

Probation is a term used to describe the release of a convicted individual back to society rather than completing their sentence in jail. In a nutshell, probation is a community supervision alternative to jail time.

If a judge convicts you of a crime, they have the discretion to choose whether you should go to prison. If the court chooses to sentence you to probation, the court will allow you to return directly to society under the supervision of a probation officer. You might have to regularly report to the probation officer and follow a specific set of rules. Failing to adhere to these rules may result in further legal implications.

What is Parole?

Parole allows a convicted individual to be released from prison to serve the remaining sentence in the community. The state-appointed parole board can use its discretion to grant parole. However, the provisions of federal sentencing guidelines may also grant mandatory parole.

Unlike probation, parole is a privilege offered to prisoners who have served a portion of their sentence. Parole requires you to comply with a specific set of rules and conditions. Parolees who fail to follow these rules may face being returned to jail.

Some of the conditions for parole include:

  • Reporting to a parole officer regularly
  • Avoiding criminal activity
  • Avoiding leaving a particular geographical area without the permission of the parole officer
  • Passing random drug tests where necessary
  • Avoiding contact with criminals or their victims

Who is Eligible for parole or probation?

Not all convicts are eligible for parole or probation. To be eligible for parole, you need to have already served a significant portion of your jail time. Parolees must have also exhibited good behavior during their time in jail.

Probation is granted to individuals convicted of minor crimes, like misdemeanors, where a prison sentence would not be required. Typically, probation is left to the discretion of the judge. However, there can be mandatory minimum sentences that bind a judge to imposing a prison sentence.

Can You Petition for Parole?

While probation is determined at the trial court, individuals can petition the Georgia State Board of Pardons and Paroles once a portion of their prison sentence has been served. While you are not required to have an attorney present at your parole hearing, hiring an attorney can help you build a strong case for parole.

Consult a Georgia appeals attorney today

Understanding the difference between parole and probation allows you to know what to expect if you are convicted of a crime. However, you need an appeals attorney to offer the legal support to petition or adhere to the rules. Get in touch with an appeals lawyer from The Bullard Law Firm to discuss your options.