What is Probation? How is Probation different from Parole?

The Probation Department in Massachusetts oversees people charged with crimes while their cases are pending, and sometimes as part (or all) of a sentence once a person is convicted or pleads guilty to the offense. Probation Departments are typically located in the courthouse where your case is heard. Conditions of probation can range from minimal (maintaining monthly telephone contact with your probation officer) to involved (curfew with or without electronic monitoring, avoiding contact with certain people or places, or attending a batterers’ program). The possibilities for particular probationary terms are nearly endless – creativity and flexibility can be helpful. A person on probation (probationer) is generally not permitted to travel outside the state, however, without obtaining advance permission from his or her probation officer.

No matter the status of a person’s underlying case, or what specific probation conditions are ordered, it is always a violation of probation to be arrested for a new crime.

If the supervising probation officer learns that a probationer has violated a condition of probation, he or she will issue a “violation notice” on which the probationer has a right to request a hearing. An attorney will represent you at the hearing during which the probation officer will try to prove to a judge that the alleged violation took place. If the judge finds a violation, the original probation terms can be re-imposed, with or without additional conditions, or other sentences, including jail time, may be imposed, all at the discretion of the judge.

According to the Probation Department’s website there are approximately 86,000 individuals under probation supervision in the Commonwealth. Of that number, 80.9 percent are men and 19.1 percent are women.

Probation should not be confused with Parole, which is a system run by the State Parole Board that rewards prisoners for good behavior and rehabilitation while they are incarcerated. A prisoner granted parole is released from custody before the actual end date of his or her sentence, subject to certain conditions. The released person (parolee) will be overseen by his or her parole officer while the parole period remains in effect, and can be sent back to jail for violating the terms of parole.

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