As a method of punishment and rehabilitation, probation has a long history. The nature of probation has evolved over the years, and all states have modern forms of adult and juvenile probation. Probation is an alternative to a jail sentence for those convicted of a crime. It is issued to allow the offender to stay in the community under certain conditions set out by the judge, such as keeping the peace, being of good character and appearing before the court when asked to do so. Probation is administered through various activities that are aimed at rehabilitating the offender.
States have different structures through which the actual activities of probation are administered and supervised. In some states such as California, probation punishment is administered at the local county level, while in others such as New York, the state government is largely in charge of probationary punishment. According to California’s Legislative Analyst’s Office, in 38 states probation is the responsibility of the state level government. The rest of the states administer probation through the local county level.
One of the ways probation is administered is through placing both juvenile and adult offenders in a day treatment program. This is especially applicable for offenders who abuse alcohol and drugs and those who have mental health problems. Day treatment may not only involve personal counseling for an offender but also group and family therapy. It can last for a period of at least 6 months and is funded by either the state or county, depending on which of these levels is in charge of probation. Offenders who refuse to complete their treatment may face harsher penalties, including jail sentences.
Probation appointments are carried out between the offender and a probation officer. The offender is required to report to the office of the probation officer in person for a period of time. The officer may also visit the offender’s house and carry out an inspection to see if the offender is violating court orders to stop consuming alcohol, owning a firearm, possessing illegal drugs or using the computer inappropriately. This method of administration and supervision ensures that an offender keeps off anything that may cause him to repeat an offense.
Community service involves engaging offenders in activities that benefit the community, such janitorial cleaning, cooking and serving in soup kitchens or caring for the elderly in a nursing home. The probation officer ensures that the offender undertakes all the activities assigned to her and that she completes her probation period. This not only benefits the community but also aims at ensuring that the offender gains a sense of responsibility and allows her the chance to be accepted back in the community.
Restitution involves a judge ordering an offender to pay a fine or compensation to a victim instead of serving a jail sentence. This fine is to compensate for any injury or loss that the offender may have caused the victim. The judge sets an amount of money to be paid depending on the extent of damage. An offender who fails to pay restitution may face harsher penalties, including a jail sentence, until he pays the compensation.
- New York City Department of Probation: History of Probation
- Legislative Analyst’s Office; Achieving Better Outcomes for Adult Probation; May 2009
- Livingstone County, Michigan, Juvenile Court: Juvenile Probation Services
- Williamson County Adult Probation: FAQS
- The Judicial Branch of Arizona, Maricopa County: Adult Probation -- Frequently Asked Questions About Restitution