What is the difference between parole and probation?

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Parole is a form of release from prison once a portion of a prison sentence has been served, while probation is a sentence that a judge can impose in certain situations. In both situations, parole and probation are two different types of supervision and in each case certain conditions and rules must be followed.


Parole is a “conditional release” from prison that allows a serving prisoner to leave prison early. Generally, parole is viewed as community supervision available to serving prisoners after serving a certain period of a jail sentence. The ultimate purpose of parole is to help with the rehabilitation and re-integration back into the community of those who have been convicted or who have pled guilty and who received jail sentences. Parole allows offenders to take concrete steps towards reintegrating into society. These steps are aimed at reducing their “recidivism” or risk of them committing another crime.

In relation to Federal jail sentences (two years or more), The National Parole Board (the “Board”) decides if an offender should be granted parole and if so, they will determine the conditions surrounding release and supervision. Serving prisoners must apply to the Board to be considered for full parole, which allows the serving of part of the jail sentence under supervision in the community under specific conditions. The Board assesses certain criteria needed to grant parole, such as whether the person presents an undue risk to society, criminal records, post release plans, and in-prison behaviour. However, some serious offences such as murder have specific rules relating to when parole may be applied for.

Another common type of parole is called a “statutory release.” This means that, based on federal law, the individual must be conditionally released to complete the last third of their sentence in the community. In these circumstances, the statutory release is actually not decided by the National Parole Board. Common conditions under a statutory release include staying within certain geographical boundaries and reporting to a parole officer.

A general misconception is that parole reduces the overall length of a prison term. However, the individual is still considered a serving prisoner that is just serving the rest of their sentence while living in the community, rather than in a prison. Depending on the situation, the conditions associated with parole can range widely. For example, the Board can impose a condition to live in a halfway house, instead of a personal residence, and to check-in with a parole officer multiple times a day. Parole is supervised by federal or provincial correctional services, and sometimes even private-sector agencies such as the Salvation Army.

While out on parole, one important thing to remember is that parole can be revoked, the conditions of parole are violated or if a subsequent offence is committed. In those situations, an individual would be taken back into custody.


Probation is a sentence in and of itself. A person may be sentenced to a term of probation on its own, or as part of another sentence, for example, a jail sentence. Unlike parole, probation is not necessarily tied to having spent time in prison.

Probation is available to a judge for only certain types of crimes and three years is the maximum term of a probation sentence. A term of probation will always include conditions that must be followed. If they are not followed, it can result in another charge (breach of probation).

Probation officers are responsible for supervising probation orders to ensure compliance. If you receive a sentence of probation, the officer will meet with you to discuss what the requirements of the order are. For example, if one of the conditions of your probation is that you must attend treatment and counselling as directed, the probation officer will direct you as to where to go for treatment and counselling and the type of treatment and counselling they require you to take.

It is important to emphasise that probation is decided in a case-specific manner, and there is no concrete formula for what probation will entail in a given scenario. This is because probation decisions require a careful selection of suitable cases, supervision, and an assessment of what release of the probationer will entail at the end of the specified time period.