Over five million people are under the supervision of the criminal justice systems in the United States. Approximately, 1. 6 million are incarcerated in local, state, and federal institutions. The remaining, or almost 70 percent of those under the responsibility of the criminal justice system, are being supervised in the community on probation or parole. This means that at any one time a large number of U. S. citizens are in the community under correctional supervision. For example, nearly 2 percent or 3. million adult men and women in the United States were being supervised in the community on federal or state probation or parole in 1995 (Bureau of Justice Statistics, 1997). While probation and parole are both considered community corrections and involve supervision in the community, they differ in other respects. Probation is a sentencing option available to local judges. Convicted offenders are released by the court to serve a sentence under court-imposed conditions for a specified period.
It is considered an alternative to incarceration. In most cases the entire probation sentence is served under supervision in the community. The court retains the authority to supervise, modify conditions, cancel probation and resentence if the probationer violates the terms of probation. The responsible agency for overseeing probation can be either state or local. There are currently more than two thousand separate probation agencies in the United States.
In contrast to probation, parole is the early release of inmates from correctional institutions prior to the expiration of the sentence on the condition of good behavior and supervision in the community. It is also referred to as supervised release, community supervision, or after-care. The parole board is the legally designated paroling authority. The board has the authority to release on parole adults (or juveniles) who are committed to correctional institutions, to set conditions that must be followed during supervision, to revoke parole and return the offender to an institution, and to discharge from parole.
Thus, probation is a front-end decision that is made prior to incarceration in a jail or prison, while parole is a back-end decision to release inmates from jail or prison. Community corrections includes traditional probation and parole as well as other sanctions such as intensive supervision, restitution, community service, correctional boot camps, and fines. Frequently these alternative punishments or intermediate sanctions come under the jurisdiction of the agencies responsible for the administration of probation and parole.