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What is the Difference Between Parole and Pardon?

By M. Lupica
Updated May 16, 2024
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Parole and pardon are two often-confused terms in criminal law despite not having much to do with one another. Parole is the release of a prisoner prior to serving the entirety of his or her sentence, usually with a set of restrictions that typically includes having to regularly meet with an officer of the court, called a parole officer. A pardon, on the other hand, is a complete forgiveness of the crime of which the party being pardoned was convicted. Generally, heads of state grant pardons, depending on the country in which the pardon is granted. Parole and pardon result in completely different situations for the person who is granted either.

The biggest difference between parole and pardon is the legal status of the subject of the grant. A party who has been pardoned no longer has the crime on his or her criminal record and he or she is free and clear from any further repercussions or penalties stemming from the conviction. On the other hand, a party who has been paroled simply gets to serve the remainder of his or her sentence outside of incarceration. Technically, he or she is still serving the sentence even after release from prison.

A further difference between parole and pardon is that someone who is paroled still has his or her freedom limited by the state. Generally, the paroled individual will have a laundry list of restrictions that depend on the crime for which the person was incarcerated. The parolee may have to remain consistently employed, attend anger management, abstain from illicit drugs and alcohol, stay away from certain people, or stay away from certain areas. Additionally, the paroled individual usually must meet regularly with a parole officer who is assigned to him or her. People who are granted pardons are not subject to any such restrictions.

The processes by which someone may apply for parole and pardon are different as well. A parole board that is appointed by the government in the jurisdiction in which the inmate is seeking parole generally grants parole, while pardons are granted by the various heads of state — such as presidents or kings. Furthermore, because the nature of a pardon is to completely eliminate the burden from the criminal’s legal record, pardons are much less common than parole. Pardons are also often granted posthumously in a symbolic gesture to acknowledge past wrongs by the government or to honor the memory of the subject of the pardon, while parole serves no purpose other than to remove the inmate from incarceration.

MyLawQuestions is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
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