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Probation & Parole: FAQ


Probation & Parole FAQ

Are you (or a family member) on probation or parole?
If so, here are some Frequently Asked Questions that you might find helpful.

  • What is the difference between probation and parole?

Probation is an alternative to prison that is available as a sentencing option for judges after an adult is adjudicated in a criminal court.  An offender may be given a sentence of probation only, or probation and a suspended prison sentence.  In Rhode Island, “split sentences” are also common, meaning that the offender is sentenced to a term of incarceration with probation supervision upon release.  Probationers are supervised by a DOC Probation & Parole Officer.  They are required to comply with general conditions of probation that apply to everyone, and sometimes special conditions ordered by the judge for particular offenders.  Individuals who violate the conditions of probation are brought back to court, and the judge can impose additional orders and/or sentence the person to prison, even if not previously incarcerated.

Parole, while also a type of community supervision, is a different legal status.  Under certain circumstances, offenders who have served a portion of their prison sentence can request that the Parole Board (which is independent of the DOC) grant discretionary release to serve the remainder of the prison sentence in the community.  Parolees are closely supervised by a DOC Probation & Parole Officer.  They are required to comply with stringent conditions of parole, usually including special conditions ordered by the Parole Board for particular offenders.  Individuals who violate the conditions of parole are immediately re-incarcerated, and may have to serve the remainder of the sentence in prison.  Additionally, the parole violator forfeits credit for the amount of time served in the community before the violation, and must make up that lost time in prison.  Following completion of parole, most offenders will also have a term of probation supervision. 

  • What are the conditions of probation or parole supervision?

Everybody on probation must follow the general conditions of probation, including reporting to the PO as required; not breaking any laws; not traveling or moving out of Rhode Island without advance approval; advising the PO of any change of address immediately; and so on.  Some offenders may also have special conditions of probation ordered by the judge, such as a No Contact Order, substance abuse treatment, restitution, batterers' intervention, mental health counseling, or other requirements. 

Conditions of parole are stricter and more detailed.  Prior to release and for every subsequent change, offenders must have approval from the Parole Board of plans for employment, where they are living in the community and with whom.  Parolees cannot socialize with other parolees unless special permission is granted by the Parole Board.  Regular drug testing is required.   The PO supervises closely, and maintains contact with family members, employers, treatment providers, and others.  In addition to the general conditions that apply to all parolees, the Parole Board usually orders special conditions for particular offenders, and most parolees are first released either to residential treatment or electronic monitoring.

  • What is EMP?

EMP stands for Electronic Monitoring Parole.  When first released on parole, many offenders are required by the Parole Board to have a monitoring device on their ankle that electronically confirms their whereabouts.  Monitored by the electronic device and their PO, these parolees must follow detailed daily schedules, which define how much time (if any) they are permitted to leave their homes for prescribed activities like work, grocery shopping, or medical appointments.

  • What is a specialized probation caseload?

Some probationers may be assigned to a specialized caseload for supervision, which enables Probation and Parole Officers to focus more on the particular issues that are commonly found in certain types of cases.  Sex offenders, domestic assault offenders, youthful gang members/ violent offenders, seriously mentally ill offenders, high risk female offenders and drug court participants are examples of probationers who are often assigned to specialized supervision.  Caseloads are smaller, allowing for more frequent contact and more attention to risk factors, victim safety issues, and special treatment needs.

  • What is involved in being supervised?  How often will I need to see the PO?

Probation & Parole Officers will determine the frequency of contact for each offender.  The frequency and nature of contact (such as office visits, home visits, telephone calls, family contacts, job site visits, and treatment provider contacts) will depend on a variety of factors.  These include your offense, prior criminal history, stability of home/ family/ work situations, record of compliance, violation history, risk to the community, and your own behavior.  Most offenders who meet supervision requirements faithfully, complete all special conditions, maintain steady employment, and stay out of trouble with the law are supervised less and less as time goes on.  Some probationers may even qualify for minimum supervision (“banked” cases), which means that although they are still on probation, they no longer have to report to a PO.   

  • What happens if I violate the conditions of probation or parole?

As indicated above, violations can result in being incarcerated by a judge (for probation violators) or by the Parole Board (for parole violators).  However, prison is not the only possible outcome, depending on the nature of the violation, your overall conduct, and the original offense.  Some violations are referred to as “technical” when they are based on not following the conditions.  When the violation is based on a new criminal charge, the outcome will also depend on the new offense.  In some cases, if the violation is relatively minor, you may be released again for continued supervision with added conditions.

  • What should I do if I am having some kind of problem?

You are strongly encouraged to talk to your Probation & Parole Officer if you are having problems.  Maybe you are ready for help in handling a family crisis or drinking problem, or you want to own up to something you’ve done.  Maybe you were questioned by the police, or you did drugs, or you missed a counseling appointment.  Even if you’ve made a mistake that could lead to violation or other legal trouble, it is better that the PO hear it from you rather than from the police or anyone else.  Talk about problems early – it’s possible the PO can help before they get more serious.  If you’ve done something wrong, you will have to face the consequences, but you’re more likely to have a better outcome if you are willing to seek help or take steps to correct your mistakes.

  • What can I expect from your Probation & Parole Officer? 

Probation & Parole Officers are committed to the highest standards of professionalism.  You can expect that your Probation and Parole Officer will clearly explain all of your conditions of supervision, including any special conditions, and when and where to report.  Your Probation and Parole Officer will assist you with referrals you may need for counseling, treatment, benefits programs, employment, and other services.  Your Probation and Parole Officer is not there to be a friend, but can be a supportive resource.  Probation & Parole Officers are also responsible for reporting any non-compliance.  If you fail to meet all the conditions of either probation or parole, the Probation and Parole Officer will hold you accountable.  If you are willing and able to control your behavior, you might be able to remain in the community – which is what we want.  But the Probation and Parole Officer will ask the judge or the Parole Board to put you in prison if your problem behavior continues and is risky to the community.    

  • Who needs to know that I am on probation or parole?

Some information about you and your offense is available to the public through police departments, court records, and official websites – including your name, city or town (not your street address), charges, and sentence.  Your Probation and Parole Officer will only inform others of this kind of information if there is a good reason, such as needing to locate you, monitor your conditions, or make sure other people are safe (especially if the crime is a sex offense or violent).  If you are on parole, your employer, landlord and anyone you live with has to be informed.  As part of probation or parole supervision, the Probation and Parole Officer may need to contact family members, police, neighbors, jobs, or others.  Every effort will be made to protect your privacy, except with your permission or as necessary for official business.  In some circumstances, public safety comes before confidentiality:  we are required to report abuse or neglect or children or elders, and we will inform law enforcement any time we believe that someone is being threatened or is at risk of being injured.  In addition, the law requires that many sex offenders register with the police where they live, and police conduct community notification about some sex offenders. 

  • What money do I have to pay?

People on probation or parole are required to pay various fees and costs, which can become confusing.  Some or all of the following may apply to you.  Be sure to check all your paperwork carefully.  Court costs are ordered by (and collected by) the court.  Fines may be part of your sentence, and are also collected by the court.  If restitution is ordered as a special condition of probation, the judge or Probation and Parole Officer will determine the amount and a payment schedule; restitution is collected by the Supreme Court Central Registry, which then distributes the money to the proper victims.  Offender supervision fees of $20 per month are required for everyone on probation or parole (except EMP), and the fees are collected by a private company.  Parolees on Electronic Monitoring must pay $6 per day, collected through a private company.  If you are picked up on a warrant after failing to appear in court, you will be charged a warrant fee.  You will also be responsible for the cost of any counseling or treatment ordered as part of your supervision.   Some fees may be reduced or waived if you are found unable to afford them.

  • What about my family?

We’d like the people who care about you and who are important to you to be strong supports as you complete your supervision requirements.  Your Probation and Parole Officer may want to talk with your family to help everyone have a clear understanding of what is expected, and we encourage you to bring adult family members to meetings with your Probation and Parole Officer.   Unfortunately, however, our offices do not provide suitable space for children.  For their safety and security, we must discourage you from bringing young children to our offices.  The best thing you can do for your family is to complete your probation or parole with no further problems, and make good use of the opportunity to become a contributing member of your family and your community.