Rhode Island Probation and Parole

It's understandable if you've used "parole" and "probation" interchangeably -- they both describe the legal status of an offender who has been conditionally released into the world.

But parole and probation are not the same thing. They actually describe two different punishments and processes -- one carried out by the traditional criminal justice system, and the other by the correctional system.

Plus, only parole, by definition, involves jail.

This is because probation is actually an alternative to jail. Though a judge may order a defendant to serve probation in addition to prison time, it's often served alone.

On the other hand, parole is a conditional release from prison. A defendant is ordinarily sentenced to jail "with the possibility of parole." After serving a designated percentage of his sentence, he can ask the parole board to grant him early release. If he meets the requirements -- good behavior, usually -- he is paroled.

Unlike with probation, there is no judge involved.

Despite these differences, parole and probation do share one major similarity. Both probationers and parolees are subject to a list of conditions. They must meet with a supervising officer; attend counseling and rehab; hold a job; and/or not break the law. If they fail to comply with the rules of parole or probation, they can be sent to jail.

Still, in the end, it is a judge that revokes probation, and a parole board that revokes parole. Both parole and probation may ultimately have the same effect, but they do operate in slightly different spheres. In Rhode Island, a failure to keep the peace and be of good behavior can result in the State filing a 32(f), which theoretically puts the probationer on notice that the State is alleging they failed to abide by the conditions of their sentence. If a Judge is “reasonably satisfied” that the probationer has failed to keep the peace, their sentence can be violated and they can be sentenced to serve all or a portion of the time that is hanging over their head.

Rhode Island tends to utilize unusually long periods of probation, which puts the probationer at great risk to serve a lengthy jail sentence if they are violated under these circumstances. Of course, the probationer is entitled to a hearing, and the rules of evidence apply (although not in their stricture).

Probation violations are adjudicated in District Court and Superior Court, and it is often possible that adjudication in one Court can affect the relative outcome in the other Court if a Defendant is on both District Court probation and Superior Court probation. There exists no right to a jury trial because these hearings are civil in nature; however a finding of no violation can be favorably dispositive of the actual charges if and when they occur.

In light of the fact that the Judge has an enormous amount of discretion in these cases, it is best advised to have an experienced attorney negotiate the matter and raise all possible legal issues if in fact the matter is litigated pursuant to a hearing.