Navigating the criminal justice system can sometimes feel like deciphering a maze, with various terms and processes that might seem to overlap. Two terms that often cause confusion are “parole” and “probation.” Both relate to individuals serving sentences outside of prison confines, but they differ significantly in their purpose and implementation. According to the National Institute of Corrections, in 2020, there were over 23,000 people on probation and 2,200 people on parole in Oklahoma.
Understanding these differences, especially in the context of Oklahoma’s legal system, can provide clarity for those in the system.
Probation: An alternative to incarceration
Probation allows an offender to avoid jail or prison and serve their sentence in the community, typically under the supervision of a probation officer. It usually comes with specific conditions that the individual must follow. If you are on probation, you might need to meet with a probation officer regularly, attend counseling or rehabilitation, perform community service or adhere to curfews. Probation often serves as a sentence for first-time or low-risk offenders. Failing to comply with the terms of probation can lead to more severe penalties, including incarceration.
Parole: Early release from prison
Parole, on the other hand, involves the early release of a prisoner before the completion of their maximum sentence. Once released, the individual remains under state supervision.
The primary difference is that parole comes after serving time in prison, while probation usually serves as an alternative to it. In Oklahoma, a parole board determines whether an inmate meets the requirements for parole. They look at the inmate’s behavior in prison, the nature of their crime and any perceived threat they might pose to society. If you are on parole and violate its conditions, you risk returning to prison to serve the remainder of your sentence.
Both probation and parole aim to reintegrate individuals into society while reducing the costs and social issues associated with long-term incarceration. Recognizing the distinctions between the two programs can help you better understand the paths and opportunities within the criminal justice system.