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What’s the Difference Between Probation and Parole?

Criminal Law Blog by The Law Office of Greg Tsioros

What’s the Difference Between Probation and Parole?

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It is important to know the differences between probation and parole. Although there are several similarities between them, people on probation or parole must adhere to a specific set of conditions and rules. Violation of probation and parole can lead to loss of freedom.


  • Probation is a type of court-ordered supervision. Probation is usually considered a positive alternative to prison or jail. The probationer must follow conditions established by the court. He or she is supervised by an area probation department. By agreeing to community supervision, the individual may avoid being sentenced to jail time. If he or she violates the conditions of probation, it’s usually necessary to return to court and receive a sentence to prison or jail. The court determines the length of the sentence at that time.
  • Parole is another type of supervision that’s overseen by the Texas Board of Pardons & Paroles. An individual who is convicted of a minimum third-degree felony and sentenced to prison may be eligible for parole at some point of his or her sentence, which allows for early release from prison. The Texas Parole Board may grant a conditional release in many situations. The board, not a court, establishes the conditions for the parolee. If the parolee violates any of these conditions, it may be necessary to return to prison to serve the remainder on the original sentence.

To Whom Does Probation Apply in Texas

Most Texas criminal cases end with some form of probation or community supervision because parole advances public safety and costs much less than incarceration in jail or prison. In Texas, parole costs the people $4 a day/offender vs. $50/day for incarceration.

There are differences between Straight Probation and Deferred Adjudication Probation. Your criminal defense counsel can help—but you might not have the option to select the type of probation you’d like:

Straight Probation
  • If you receive probation, the jail or prison sentence is suspended and you receive certain assigned terms. You don’t go to jail or prison. You go home. Let’s imagine you were charged with a DWI:
    • You receive a felony conviction for two years in prison and receive probate five years of probation instead, by the Texas Department of Corrections. Deferred Adjudication isn’t available for DWI.
    • Your prison sentence is converted to five years’ probation via plea agreement (“Common Conditions of Probation”) with the State of Texas.
    • You are assigned a probation officer (PO) for the period.
    • Conditions of your probation may include: alcohol avoidance, treatment and counseling, install of Ignition Interlock Device on the vehicle, and regular drug and urine tests as recommended.
    • If you don’t abide by straight probation, it is revoked. Your maximum jail sentence is two years. However, after completing straight probation, the criminal charge isn’t eligible for sealing of your records.
Deferred Adjudication Probation
  • Deferred Adjudication Probation, also known as deferred probation, is the second type of community supervision. Let’s imagine you’re convicted of possession less than two ounces of marijuana (POM). This Class B misdemeanor means you can receive up to six months of jail time in Texas. However, if you enter into a plea agreement with the State of Texas, you receive probation instead of jail time.

There are two primary differences between deferred and straight probation:

  1. Unlike straight probation, deferred adjudication means a harsher punishment if it’s revoked. Instead of staying in jail for six months, you might be subject to an extended jail or prison sentence. For instance, a first-degree conviction can be extended to 99 years in prison. You have much more to lose if your deferred probation is revoked.
  2. There’s some positive news, however. If you receive deferred adjudication, you also receive non-disclosure when the probation is completed. That means the court may seal your criminal record. Non-disclosure may increase your ability to become employed in the private sector.

An experienced criminal defense attorney can help you make probation decisions and help you get the records sealed after completion of deferred adjudication. An experienced probation lawyer knows the different ways that probation laws vary between Texas counties. For instance, a revocation hearing may differ between Harris County and Travis County. Understanding these differences can help to prepare for a Revocation of Probation Hearing. Hire an experienced criminal defense attorney for your probation hearing.

To Whom Does Parole Apply in Texas

The parole process in Texas is complex. Much of what happens occurs behind closed doors. The laws governing parole may raise much more questions than answers. Parolees and families want to know when an inmate may be considered for parole; what actions increase the inmate’s chances of parole; when does parole eligibility occur and what does it mean; what is a parole interview; and how does the Texas parole board make decisions?

1. Parole eligibility is determined by Texas laws in effect when the inmate committed the original offense.

  • The inmate receives credit for time in jail or prison. This credit counts towards parole eligibility.
  • For instance, if an inmate is in prison for six months before receiving a 10-year sentence, he or she is parole-eligible (unless the case was a 3g offense as per Texas Government Code § 508.149, “Inmates Ineligible for Mandatory Supervision”) in one year, two months, and eight days. Six months in custody is subtracted from the eligibility date. The individual in the example if eligible for parole in about eight months from the sentencing hearing.
  • If the inmate’s parole is successful, he or she is released to community supervision under specific terms and conditions.

2. When the inmate is eligible for parole consideration, he or she must apply for an interview with the parole board. He or she will hear from the Texas Department of Criminal Justice in weeks or months.

  • During the interview, the inmate is asked questions, such as “How do you prioritize your tasks?” or “How do you de-stress from your job?”
  • The parole board discusses the case and makes a decision.

Portions of the Texas parole process are seemingly unclear or vague. For that reason, it can be difficult for inmates and families to understand the general structure of parole. Also, because each member of the parole board has the discretion to vote his or her conscience, it’s difficult to quantify when and in what circumstances the board grants or denies parole.

It’s essential to hire an experienced probation attorney. He or she can help you to maximize chances of getting positive results. The attorney must represent the offender in person and before the parole board. Regardless of the criminal defense attorney’s experience, he or she can’t guarantee success on parole.

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