Legal Guides

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What’s the difference between probation and parole

If you had been charged with a criminal offence, you would obviously want to know all the possibilities that may arise from your charge:

Can you potentially be going to jail?Is there a possibility of parole? What does parole even mean?

This article explains the difference between probation and parole in the Canadian legal system.

If you are charged with a crime in Canada, you have violated a provision of the Criminal Code. The Code sets out each law, the mandatory/minimum sentences for each charge, and what the Crown (a Canadian prosecutor) has to prove in order to show guilt.

Parole and probation are both alternatives to jail time, but differ as to when they occur and their conditions. Basically, they are different sentencing options. In both situations, the individual is expected to follow certain rules.

What is Probation?

Probation usually occurs before and often instead of jail time. It is a correctional method where an offender is convicted, but instead of jail, is under supervision in the community. It can also follow a period of imprisonment.  Therefore, it is a sentencing option available to a judge for certain types of crimes.

Each Canadian province has their own allocated probation services, and these services are responsible for preparing a report on the accused’s background to suggest if the offender can perform some type of community service as part of their punishment, enroll in an alcohol or drug treatment, or accept counseling on mental health concerns or social skills.

Not every case is the same and some may be more serious than others. Probation is effective because of the careful selection of suitable cases, supervision, and the release of the probationer at the end of the specified time continent on good behaviour.  If any individual fails to comply with a probation order, they can receive additional punishment.

What is Parole?

Parole is an early release from prison, and seen as a “conditional release”. The purpose of parole is to help with the rehabilitation and re-integration of those convicted into the community. Under federal law, most offenders must be conditionally released to do the last third of the sentence in the community, with supervision, considered a statutory release.  A statutory release is not decided by the National Parole Board because it is mandatory by law.

Offenders on a statutory release are required to follow standard conditions which include reporting to a parole officer and keeping within certain geographic boundaries. Additionally, and most importantly, they must obey the law.

A condition may be that the offender lives in a halfway house. Parole is supervised by federal or provincial correctional services, or also private-sector agencies such as the Salvation Army.

Offenders can apply to the National Parole Board for consideration of having full parole. Full parole allows the offender to serve part off their sentence under supervision in the community under specific conditions. Offenders on full parole typically live in a private residence.

There are certain criteria needed to grant parole, including an assessment of whether the prisoner will present an undue risk to society, such as re offending.  The Board looks at the prisoner’s post release plans, seriousness of their criminal record, and their behaviour in prison. In certain situations, for example first-degree murder, the individual convicted is ineligible for parole until 25 years have been served.

There is also “day parole” which allows an offender to participate in a community-based activity to prepare for full parole or statutory release. To be eligible for day parole, it has to be six months before full parole eligibility date or six months into the sentence, whichever is greater. For offenders serving life sentences, three years before parole eligibility date.

Parole can be revoked and the offender will return to jail at any time they violate the conditions of parole or commit another offence.

Written by Tiana Perricone at Toronto Defence Lawyers

DISCLAIMER: This article should not be regarded as constituting legal advice in relation to particular circumstances. It is merely a general comment on the relevant topic. If specific advice is required in connection with any of the matters covered in this article, please speak to Toronto Defence Lawyers directly.

Published on 16th July 2019
(Last updated 7th May 2021)