Probation v. Parole v. PRCS v. Mandatory Supervision
For those outside of criminal justice system, it can be confusing to try to figure out the differences between probation, parole, post-release community supervision (“PRCS”), and mandatory supervision. Below is a brief synopsis of each of these four types of programs in California.
What is probation?
Probation is a system under which a person who has been convicted or pleaded guilty is placed under the supervision of a probation officer for a set period of time. California Penal Code section 1203.1, subdivision (a), provides that when granting probation, the trial court “may suspend the imposing or the execution of the sentence and may direct that the suspension may continue for a period of time not exceeding two years, and upon those terms and conditions as it shall determine.” (Pen. Code, § 1203.1, subd. (a).) As a condition of probation, the trial court may also require that the defendant serve time in county jail, “for a period not exceeding the maximum time fixed by law in the case.” (Pen. Code, § 1203.1, subd. (a).)
Before January 1, 2021, terms for felony probation in California could extend for as long as the maximum possible prison sentence for the conviction. On September 30, 2020, however, Governor Newsom signed Assembly Bill No. 1950. (Stats. 2020, ch. 328, § 2.) This measure amended the penal code to provide a two-year limit on felony probation and a one-year limit on misdemeanor probation, with some exceptions. (Stats. 2020, ch. 328, § 2.) The purpose of this bill was to reduce the possibility that probationers will be found to be in violation of their probations for minor offenses, and proponents of the bill argued that “increased levels of supervision can lead to increased involvement with the criminal justice system due to the likelihood that minor violations will be detected.” (Sen. Rules Com., Off. of Sen. Floor Analyses, 3d reading of AB 1950 (2019-2020 Reg. Sess.).)
What is parole?
“[P]arole is a mandatory component of any prison sentence.” (People v. Nuckles (2013) 56 Cal.4th 601, 609.) Thus, with the exception of a small number of crimes that require a life sentence and expressly forbid parole, every prison sentence contemplates a period of parole. (People v. Preston (2015) 239 Cal.App.4th 415, 424.) The purpose of parole is to assist individuals who have served prison terms to successfully reenter society and not return to criminal behavior.
Every individual who is subject to parole has conditions that he or she must follow. General conditions of parole include unannounced searches of a parolee’s residence and possession, notification requirements when a parolee’s address or job changes, and a requirement of prior permission from the parole agent to travel more than 50 miles from a parolee’s residence. (CDCR, Parole Conditions; [last accessed June 25, 2021].) There may also be special conditions of parole that are related to the particular parolee’s offense or criminal history. (CDCR, Parole Conditions; [last accessed June 25, 2021].)
After Assembly Bill 109, i.e., realignment and PRCS, parole is generally reserved for offenders who have been convicted in their current prison commitment for a Strike felony, or are a Penal Code § 290 registrant.
What is PRCS?
PRCS is an acronym that stands for “Post Release Community Supervision.” It is another form of supervision for individuals who have been released from a California state prison. (CDCR, Post Release Community Supervision; [last accessed June 25, 2021].) Under PRCS, an individual is placed under the supervision of the probation department in the county where they are released. (Pen. Code, § 3451, subd. (a).) This program was created as part of the Criminal Justice Realignment Act of 2011. (People v. Steward (2018) 20 Cal.App.5th 407, 417.) As a result of realignment, an individual released from prison is either placed on parole or on PRCS. (People v. Armogeda (2015) 233 Cal.App.4th 428, 434.)
PRCS generally applies to everyone except “high-level offenders,” who receive parole. (Ibid.) Under California Penal Code section 3451, subdivision (b), a person released from prison after serving a term for one of the following crimes is not eligible for PRCS:
- A serious felony described in subdivision (c) of Section 1192.7.
- A violent felony described in subdivision (c) of Section 667.5.
- A crime for which the person was sentenced pursuant to paragraph (2) of subdivision (e) of Section 667 or paragraph (2) of subdivision (c) of Section 1170.12.
- Any crime for which the person is classified as a high-risk sex offender.
- Any crime for which the person is required, as a condition of parole, to undergo treatment by the State Department of State Hospitals pursuant to Section 2962.
(Pen. Code, § 3451, subd. (b).)
What is mandatory supervision?
Mandatory supervision is “a court ordered period of time in the community under the supervision of the county probation department.” (CPOC Issue Brief Winter 2012, Mandatory Supervision: The Benefits of Evidence Based Supervision under Public Safety Realignment; [last accessed June 25, 2021].) It is only available to individuals who have been given a “split sentence,” which permits a court to divide the time of a sentence between a term in jail and a period of supervision by a probation department. (Ibid.)
Split sentences are governed by California Penal Code section 1170, subdivision (h), which was also created as part of the Criminal Justice Realignment Act of 2011. (People v. Arce (2017) 11 Cal.App.5th 613, 618.) When a defendant is subject to sentencing under section 1170, subdivision (h), the trial judge is required to impose a split sentence unless “the court finds that, in the interests of justice, it is not appropriate in a particular case.” (Ibid.)
Mandatory supervision is basically a period of supervision following a prison sentence that gets served in county jail. Mandatory supervision was created in 2011 under Assembly Bill 109, i.e., re-alignment (shifting of sentenced defendants from prison to county jails). The mandatory supervision is usually conducted by the sentencing county’s probation department.