Frequently Asked Questions About Probation: What You’ll Need To Know If You’re Facing This Sentence

According to a survey conducted by the Pew Charitable Trusts' Public Safety Performance Project, nearly 7.3 million adults across the United States are either behind bars, on parole or on probation. If you or a loved one was recently sentenced to probation, you might be confused, concerned or scared about what happens next. Here are a few frequently asked questions you may have about what exactly probation is and what you can expect:

What Exactly Is the Difference Between Parole and Probation?

You've watched your fair share of police dramas on television and have heard the words "parole" and "probation" quite often. These sentences are not the same, and it's important to understand the differences because each comes with its own set of rules, laws and expectations:

  • Probation – An individual who was sentenced to probation either did not go to jail, or spent a short time in jail before being released and assigned to a probation officer. In general, the laws and regulations associated with being on probation are less strict than parole.

  • Parole – A person who is placed on parole has been in prison and served part of their sentence. For an individual to be placed on parole, a panel must determine they are able to rejoin society – but this departure from prison does come with several strict stipulations.

Be aware that probation and parole are two very different facets of the criminal justice system and you shouldn't confuse the two.

What Should I Expect During My First Meeting With a Probation Officer?

The first few days on probation can be overwhelming, and chances are the scariest aspect is your first meeting with your probation officer. This individual is a professional and their job is to follow the law, but they're also human beings who want you to succeed.

Here are a few things you can expect during your first meeting and what you should, and should not, do or say:

  • Be There On Time – Far and away, the most important thing you must do is follow all the directions your probation officer gives you, including when and where to attend your first meeting. If for whatever reason you can't attend, it's vital to contact your probation officer immediately – and you better have a valid excuse, such as a death in the family or a major illness.

  • Bring Everything The Probation Officer Requires – Depending on your probation officer, you might be expected to bring a number of items and documents. However, there are a few things you must bring along, including a state issued identification card and proof of employment and residence. If you've been ordered to perform community service or a pay a fine, the probation officer will probably ask for official documentation stating you fulfilled this stipulation of your probation.

  • Whatever You Do, Don't Do the Following – Out of respect for your probation officer, leave your cell phone at home, or at least turn it off. In addition, it is vital to not bring along any illegal substances or firearms.

It's important to follow all the probation officer's instructions explicitly, and it's also just as important to act in a respectful manner. Remember, your probation officer will play a huge role in the next few months or years of your life, and getting on their bad side can make this unfortunate chapter of your life even more difficult.

Facing probation isn't easy, but if you follow the rules and remain respectful towards your probation officer, you will make it through. Above all, remember to stay on the straight and narrow during this difficult period, and use this as an opportunity to discover a more positive life path.  For more information about dos and don'ts ask a professional criminal defense attorney Salt Lake City, UT.