The criminal justice system is a complex network of interlinked forces, institutions and actors. It includes police, judges, lawyers, prisons, courthouses, jails, halfway houses, drug treatment facilities and other such entities. Probation and parole feature heavily in the system. Probation is the supervisory monitoring of an offender based on conditions set by the courts; parole is a system of early release following imprisonment for a criminal conviction.
Advantages of Probation
Probation allows some flexibility in the handling of criminal offenders. It permits judges to make discretionary decisions about an individual's ability to function in society, giving them more options than simply sending an offender to prison. Probation is a system of "second chances" that simultaneously maintains monitoring mechanisms over would-be criminals. It provides individuals a chance to redeem themselves, but monitors their behavior and progress to prevent them from committing crimes again.
Disadvantages of Probation
Probation is generally considered a better alternative than jail (from the perspective of a convict and his family), but it still represents an incursion by the state into the lives of individuals. Millions of people are "in the system" under probation, a fact that has been criticized by sociologists, constitutional rights activists, civil rights leaders and others, who claim that ensnaring so many people in the criminal justice system is detrimental to both the individual and society. Other critics of probation may claim that it gives criminals too much leeway in letting them live freely when they should, in fact, be imprisoned.
Advantages of Parole
Parole is the early release of convicts from prison, prior to the completion of their given sentence. Parole is issued based on good behavior or the parole board's determination that the convict has been sufficiently reformed to re-enter society. Therein lies its foremost advantage: the provision of fresh opportunity and the chance to start anew for criminals. It is also advantageous to the public to reduce the number of people incarcerated, which can cost tens of thousands of dollars per prisoner per year. Furthermore, reducing incarceration rates is conducive to a free, democratic society.
Disadvantages of Parole
Parole involves the risk that the parolee may become a repeat offender (known as recidivism in the criminal justice field). It also involves the risk that he won't, in fact, be able to survive on his own upon release, and will fall victim to chronic unemployment, homelessness, social maladjustment or substance abuse. Another disadvantage of parole is that it frequently involves the continuation of involvement by the criminal justice system (at a financial cost to the public and to the detriment of individual liberty) in the parolee's life, because parole is often accompanied by monitoring for a certain period thereafter.