Paroles, Pardons and Probations: 101

These are terms you frequently hear in the news but their meaning may not be very clear. While all three are a product of the criminal justice system, they are not all handled by the same office or people. In Massachusetts, the Governor’s Council approves or denies pardons and also votes on parole board members. This should not be confused with parole or probation.


A pardon is the clemency and forgiveness of an offender’s original offense. Parole Board Members first review the case to assess whether or not it warrants a hearing. If they determine that a hearing should be held, Board Members conduct the hearing and the Full Board then makes a recommendation to the governor.

In order to be granted a pardon, a petitioner must show “good citizenship,” as well as a specific and compelling need for a pardon. To make its decision, the board will review evidence from both sides, including support or opposition to the petitioner and the nature of support or opposition.

In Massachusetts the power to grant executive clemency-pardons and commutations is held by the governor, with the advice and consent of the Massachusetts Governor’s Council.

It is important that we have Governor’s Councilors that carefully evaluate pardons.


According to the Massachusetts Executive Office of Public Safety and Security, parole “is the discretionary release of an inmate from confinement after he or she has served a portion of a prison sentence. Parolees remain under parole supervision and control and must adhere to certain parole conditions that, if violated, can be grounds for a return to custody. The decision to release an inmate on parole is made by the seven members of the Massachusetts Parole Board. By law, the board must make a parole release decision based upon the inmate's risk to re-offend and the compatibility of his or her release with the welfare of society.”

Parolees are monitored and must adhere to basic conditions of release as well as special conditions that are based on such factors as criminal history, mental health and record of substance abuse.


Instead of being sentenced to jail or a house of correction, probation is a sentence that allows one to remain in the community with specific conditions. You are allowed to work and be with your family and friends but will be monitored and assisted by a probation officer. If conditions of probation are violated, a judge may sentence you to jail.

Stay tuned for more information on bail and dangerousness and more educational information that will include dangerousness hearings, revocation of bail, new offenses and violation of conditions