The Difference Between Bail and Parole

The terms “bail” and “parole” are often confused with one another.  While they are similar, in that a defendant’s past criminal history and conduct are considered, they are completely separate processes that take place at different times of a criminal case.

What is bail?

After a person has been arrested for a crime and has gone through the booking process, he will appear before a judge who will decide whether or not to allow the defendant to pay bail, a specified amount of money, in order to be released from jail.  To determine whether or not to offer the ability to post bail and how much should be paid, the court looks at many things including the nature of the crime, the defendant’s criminal record, and various indicators of risk of flight.  By putting up money, the defendant has an incentive to return for all court appearances or else he will forfeit his bail money to the court.

Because it is meant to be an incentive, bail is usually set quite high and for many, it is not affordable, which is where, for a fee, a bail bond agent can help.  A bondsman will make an agreement with the court that the defendant will appear at all scheduled court proceedings and in return, the defendant will put something up for collateral, which can be anything of value such as real estate, jewelry, automobiles, etc., that could be sold to pay the court the full amount of bail if the defendant fails to appear in court, or “skips”.  Many bail bondsmen offer payment plans and may be able to post bail with only a signature if the defendant has nothing of value for collateral.  A defendant’s friends or family members can also offer to put up collateral but should do so discriminately.  Whoever posts bail on behalf of the defendant loses their collateral if the defendant skips.

What is parole?

Parole happens at the other end of the legal process after a defendant has been convicted of a crime.  Parole is when a prisoner is released from jail early for good behavior.  A judge can decide at sentencing that due to the defendant’s past, the nature of the crime, or if the defendant hadn’t posted bail and had already spent time in jail, that the defendant is released on parole for a specified amount of time.

If a defendant does not receive parole at sentencing, he may be offered parole eligibility after a predetermined amount of time served.  Once that time has been served, he will appear before the parole board.  The parole board, instead of a judge, will decide whether or not to release the defendant.  They will consider the nature of the crime, the impact of the crime, the conduct of the inmate during incarceration, and his possible threat to society if he were to be released.  Victims and/or family members of the victims of the crime are usually allowed to makes statements at these hearings as well.

If the board decides against parole, the inmate returns to prison until he is up for parole again.  If the board grants parole, the defendant can go home.

It doesn’t end there, however.  While on parole, which comes with a specified timeframe, the parolee must meet with a parole officer on a regular basis.  If a parole meeting is missed, the parolee may be returned to prison to serve out the remainder of his sentence.  There are usually other stipulations as well, such as passing drug tests, not associating with criminals, and not committing any new crimes.  Once the time on parole is finished, providing all rules were followed, the person is released from its restrictions.

What are the differences?

  • Bail is a monetary incentive to return to court; parole is an early release incentive for good behavior.  In other words, bail is paying for freedom; parole is earning freedom.

  • Bail happens before conviction*; parole happens after conviction.

  • Bail is offered by a judge; parole is offered by a parole board (unless granted at sentencing by the judge).

  • If the defendant is arrested while on bail, he is remanded to prison until trial; if the defendant is arrested while on parole, he is returned to prison to serve the rest of his original sentence.

Bail and parole are both effective incentive programs that are meant to benefit the defendant as well as the court and prison systems.  If you have any questions regarding these differences or find yourself or a loved one arrested, call Mercy Bail Bonds of Florida today at (727) 856-7775.  We’re open 24/7 to help you with all of your bail bonds questions and needs.

*Bail is sometimes allowed after a conviction while a case is on appeal.