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How Does Probation Work?



What Is Probation?

Persons convicted of a crime may be granted probation by the court, or they may be made to serve a probation period in addition to a jail sentence, after completion of the jail term. In many instances, a judge sentences a defendant to prison time and then suspends the sentence so that a period of probation may be imposed in lieu of jail. Usually probation lasts for a minimum of six months and a maximum of five years. A typical probation period lasts approximately three years.

Probation is usually reserved for offenses or crimes of a minor variety and for defendants or offenders who are not deemed to be a threat to society. Probation is a necessary response in some jurisdictions due to massive overcrowding of prisons. Probation permits a defendant to have conditional and limited freedom that is dependent upon the continued exercise of model behavior. If an inmate or criminal defendant adheres to mandates of the law and abides by directives of the court, then he or she may be permitted to reside and work within the community as a free, contributing member. The goal is to have the offender employed in a regular job with routine hours of work, reliable contact information, and supervisors or colleagues who can verify conditions of employment.

Conditions of Probation

Probation is not a condition or lifestyle without any restriction or limitation. During the probation period, the inmate or criminal defendant must pay all fines and court costs associated with his or her offense, as well as report regularly to a probation officer (usually monthly, but in some instances, weekly) under a supervised probation system. The inmate or defendant must also regularly inform the probation officer of his or her home and work locations. The exception to this reporting requirement is made in instances of summary probation, when reporting requirements to a probation officer are excused.

The court may also impose other requirements for an inmate or criminal defendant to comply with during probation. The probation officer will monitor these conditions and make sure they are met throughout the probation period. These conditions must be met, and the probation period must be served, for a defendant to be released from probation.

Probation is more or less a period of trial freedom; if an inmate or defendant abides by applicable rules, he or she is given increased freedom. On the other hand, if an inmate or defendant continues to break the rules and repeat bad behavior, he or she will likely land back in police custody and be incarcerated. Breaking rules during probation can lead to a revocation of probation and the requirement of jail time.

Probation Is About Rehabilitation

Probation gives criminal defendants and offenders the opportunity to redirect their lives. The probation system gives offenders and defendants the necessary support, guidance, and structure to foster success for them. During the probation period, an inmate or defendant might be made to attend counseling, perform community service projects, participate in physical labor projects, and/or participate in drug testing. The probation officer is charged with monitoring all of the activities and projects during probation.