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NYS Criminal Justice:
Quick Guide

This is a quick explanation of a few key criminal justice concepts in New York State.

Sources and further reading are linked in each section bold, gold, and underlined!

Image by Lucas Sankey

Probation versus Parole

These are also two very different agencies. Here's an overview of what they are and the difference between the two.

In this Quick Guide find:


City or County Jails

WHO RUNS JAILS: Jails in New York State are usually owned and run by the city or county government (in Upstate, it's often the county Sheriff's Department). 

  • In other states, governments can contract out to private agencies to run the jail just like a private prison.


  • "Pre-Trial" folks, who have been arrested and are awaiting trial/court proceedings, and were either not granted bail or cannot afford their bail

    • including people held on potential parole or probation violations​

  • Folks put in jail as a specialty court sanction

    • like a 'violation' while on a drug court or other specialty court

  • People in legal proceedings waiting to be sentenced

  • People convicted and sentenced to less than 1 year

    • primarily violations, misdemeanors or probation violations

  • People convicted and sentenced to prison but waiting to be transferred to a prison​​


A very large portion of jail populations in the U.S. are in jail for parole or probation violations, not new charges.

  • Before recent NYS parole reform, people accused of parole violations were automatically sent to jail​​


State or Federal Prisons

WHO RUNS PRISONS: The state government (in the form of the New York State Department of Corrections for state prisons) or the federal government (in the case of a Federal Prison).

  • "Private Prisons": sometimes the state or federal government contracts out the functions of the prison to a private agency

    • ​the firm can be contracted just to run the facility, or the contract can include ownership of the facility​
  • New York State actually doesn't allow the privatization of any correctional facilities!​


  • State Prisons: Those convicted and sentenced to more than 1 year

    • in New York State, this is all felony convictions​ OR people convicted of parole or probation violations and given a prison sentence

  • Federal Prisons: Those convicted of federal crimes​

    • this includes some drug trafficking and gun crimes, crimes committed on a Native American reservation or by a Native America, 


In 2019, 40% of the prison population in NYS was incarcerated for a parole violation, not a new charge.

  • NYS has the highest rate of prison incarcerations for parole violations in the country

Summaries written by Darby Larkin. If you have other questions or suggestions, please email

Jail vs Prison
Probation vs Parole

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A county function, and part of someone's sentence.

Can REPLACE incarceration.

Probation is a county function

  • probation officers are employed by a county probation department (or city government in NYC) and every county has one - probation officers are often from the area

Probation is part of a sentence imposed by a criminal or family court - it usually replaces incarceration, but sometimes it can accompany incarceration.

  • Someone can be sentenced to "straight probation" (their sentence is only probation)

  • Or someone can receive a "split sentence" (they serve an amount of time in jail or prison then go on probation)​


A state function, and a way to shorten a prison sentence.

Always AFTER incarceration.

Parole is a state function

  • parole officers are employed by the state Department of Corrections (DOCCS) - there are only 7 parole offices for all of New York State - 4 of which are in the city - DOCCS offices

Parole always follows a prison sentence - people serving a sentence in state prison apply for an early release from prison under parole supervision

  • the NYS Parole Board conducts an investigation and interview of the person to determine whether to grant the release and what the conditions of parole would be

Both probation AND parole

Supervising someone in the community, making sure they follow rules.

Further reading:

DOCCS Community Supervision

Probation Violation: Law Office of Stephen Bilkis

Parole Violations: DOCCS

AmNY Op-Ed Probation vs Parole

Probation vs Parole

There are Conditions of Parole/Probation, or rules for someone to follow.

  • on probation, the court decides these - on parole the Parole Board decides

Conditions are very broad, including avoiding things that are not crimes

  • Someone can be required to stay away from all alcohol and drugs, including legal drugs like marijuana, stay away from people with a criminal record or from specified people (including family members or close friends), to keep a job and housing, to go to treatment, to meet with the parole officer at specific times, and not to leave the state without permission

If someone violates their conditions, they can be arrested and go to jail or prison. 

  • if the officer suspects a VOP (Violation of Probation/Parole) they can issue an arrest warrant - the person can end up going to jail or prison as a result

A PO (parole/probation officer) can check in on their client whenever, wherever to make sure they're following their conditions.

  • they can go to a person's house, search their house, car, or other possessions, search the person, and drug test their probationer/parolee (their client)

Both parole and probation were designed and intended to help someone be successful post-incarceration, to connect with services, and not commit crimes.

  •  POs are meant to help their client devise a reentry plan if they're being released from incarceration, secure housing, get connected with services, find and keep a job, and provide support as an ally - Purpose of PO: Maryville Univ.

Probation vs Parole
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