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4.1: Probation

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    Probation is very similar to parole, and many of the legal issues are identical. Many jurisdictions combine the job of probation and parole officer, and these officers are often employed in departments of community corrections. The most basic difference between probation and parole is that probationers are sentenced to community sanctions rather than a prison sentence. Parolees have already served at least some prison time. Some jurisdictions can sentence an offender to a split sentence. A split sentence requires the offender to stay in prison for a short time before being released on probation.

    Most criminal justice historians trace the roots of modern probation to John Augustus, who began his professional life as a businessperson and boot maker. Augustus became known as the father of probation largely due to his strong belief in abstinence from alcohol. He was an active member in the Washington Total Abstinence Society, an organization that believed criminals motivated by alcohol could be rehabilitated by human kindness and moral teachings rather than incarceration. His work began in earnest when, in 1841, he showed up in a Boston police court to bail out a "common drunkard." Augustus accompanied the man on his court date three weeks later, and those present were stunned at the change in the man. He was sober and well kempt. For 18 years, he served in the capacity of a probation officer on a purely voluntary basis. Shortly after his death in 1859, a probation statute was passed so that his work could continue under the auspices of the state. With the rise of psychology's influence in the 1920s, probation officers moved from practical help in the field to a more therapeutic model. The pendulum swung back to a more practical bent in the 1960s when probation officers began to act more as service brokers. They assisted probationers with such things as obtaining employment, obtaining housing, managing finances, and getting an education.

    Many jurisdictions have several levels of supervision. The most common distinction between levels of probationers is active supervision and inactive supervision. Probationers on active supervision are required to report in with a probation officer at regular intervals. Probationers can be placed on inactive supervision because they committed only minor offenses. Serious offenders can sometimes be placed on inactive supervision when they have completed much of a long probation sentence without problems.

    The preferred method of checking in depends on the jurisdiction. Many require in person visits, but some jurisdictions allow phone calls and checking in via mail. Inactive probationers are not required to check in at all or very infrequently. Checking in with an officer is a condition of probation. Other conditions often include participation in treatment programs, paying fines, and not using drugs or alcohol. If these conditions are not followed, the the probationer is said to be a violator. Violators are subject to probation revocation. Revocations often result in a prison sentence, but some violators are given second chances, and some are sentenced to special programs for technical violations. Many jurisdictions classify absconders differently than other violators. An absconder is a probationer (or parolee) that stops reporting and "disappears."

    Following the trend of mass incarceration in the United States over the past several decades has been a similar trend in what has been called "mass community supervision." In 1980, about 1.34 million offenders were on probation or parole in the United States. That figure exploded to nearly 5 million by 2012. The Bureau of Justice Statistics (Maruschak & Parks, 2014) provides a look at these numbers from a different vantage point: about 1 in 50 adults in the United States were under community supervision at yearend 2012. The community supervision population includes adults on probation, parole, or any other post-prison supervision.

    4.1: Probation is shared under a CC BY 4.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by LibreTexts.

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