Understanding the Difference between Probation and Parole in Illinois

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One part of criminal law that many people misunderstand is the difference between probation and parole. Because the terms are similar, they are often confused with one another, but these are two very different things. Here is a closer look at the difference between probation and parole.

What Is Parole?

Parole is an option for many guilty parties after serving a portion of their jail time. If a person shows they have changed their ways and are willing to cause no trouble, and have taken measures to become a productive member of society, they may be allowed out of jail on parole.

While on parole, the offender can be in the community but under strict supervision. They must follow a long list of rules that help protect them against stepping back into criminal behavior. The conditions are unique to the individual, but breaking these terms will land the offender back in jail. Some common conditions include:

  • Must obey all laws
  • Must avoid alcohol and drugs
  • Cannot live in areas of the community that put vulnerable parties at risk
  • May not be able to drive

During parole, the individual will need to check in with their parole advisor and allow the parole advisor to visit their home on occasion. They have to report changes like residency or work changes to the officer.

Violating the conditions of release is known as a parole violation. It comes with serious consequences, including potentially a return to jail, depending on the original crime and the type of violation that occurs.

Parole is considered an early release from jail. If someone is in jail and behaves well, they may be able to get out early, with a little extra oversight, through parole.

How Does Someone Get Parole?

The process of granting parole usually goes like this:

  • At sentencing, an offender will be given a set period of time they must serve before they can seek parole.
  • After reaching that point, the offender can apply for parole.
  • This will send the offender to a parole hearing, where the parole commission will approve or deny the request for parole.
  • At the hearing, the offender can explain what they have done to become a better citizen.

If granted parole, the offender will finish the terms of their incarceration living in society.

What Is Probation?

Probation occurs when someone is found guilty of a crime, but the crime does not warrant extensive jail time. The state of Illinois has two types of probation.

One type of probation involves finishing the term of a sentence on probation instead of in jail. They will spend some time in jail, then go on probation. The second type involves avoiding jail altogether. These individuals will go on probation instead of prison. Like parole, probation allows the person to live in their community under the supervision of a probation officer.

During probation, the offender will need to complete some tasks. For example, they will need to:

  • Perform community service
  • Go to counseling for addiction issues
  • Pay restitution or fines for their crimes
  • Report to the probation officer
  • Avoid alcohol and tobacco use or gun possession
  • Avoid certain areas of the community, such as areas near schools or playgrounds

Sometimes, probation is called an alternative to jail. It is typically reserved for those who commit low-level, non-violent crimes. It is quite common, as around 2/3 of all people convicted of a crime are put on probation rather than ending up in jail.

How Are Probation and Parole Similar?

Both probation and parole give a person a chance to avoid prison time after a conviction. The difference is whether or not prison time is a requirement, as in the case of parole, or an option, as in the case of probation.

Probation and parole also have rules and requirements that, if you violate, you could end up in jail or face additional criminal charges.

Finally, both probation and parole have oversight. You must check in with the probation or parole officer on a regular basis in order to remain in this situation instead of going to jail.

How Are They Different?

After reading these definitions, many people think that parole and probation are the same. While they are similar, there is a specific distinction.

Probation is part of the offender’s initial sentence. It is offered for less serious crimes or crimes that do not make the person a menace to the community as a whole. In contrast, parole is handed out later after the person has served some of their sentence. The parole board decides if someone can get parole, rather than the initial judge, and their behavior in prison will affect their ability to get it.

This difference is subtle, but it is still a difference.

Get Legal Help to Understand Your Rights

If you are facing a potential criminal conviction, the right legal help is important. You need an attorney to help you navigate the process, understand your rights and avoid unnecessary penalties. With legal help, you can often qualify for parole or probation and avoid some or all of your jail time.

Marc D. Wolfe

Marc Wolfe has been representing clients in criminal matters in Woodridge, Chicago, and across the state of Illinois for over 30 years now. Marc has tried well over 300 cases to verdict and represents those who face prosecution or investigation for a wide range of federal and state criminal offenses, including murder, embezzlement, white collar crimes, drugs and sexual abuse.

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