The courts sometimes offer probation to offenders instead of sending them to prison. The individual must abide by terms and conditions of probation as set forth by the judge. Experts in the field have debated the pros and cons of probation ever since the first probation officer, John Augustus, petitioned the courts for supervised release in 1841.
In his 2010 book, "Introduction to Criminal Justice," Larry J. Siegal reports that prison costs more than £16,250 yearly per inmate, while probation costs £1,300 per year. The implications regarding cost effectiveness are staggering when looking at only ten people, let alone when considering the over 1.4 million people who were in custody as of January 1, 2010, according to the PEW Center on the States.
Many offenders need minimal rehabilitation in order to become productive members of society. Completing substance abuse treatment or community service hours can motivate offenders toward compliance with probation requirements. They can stay in the community, maintain family ties and work to contribute to their family. If these same offenders are sent to prison, they might become hardened and learn further criminal behaviour, when they could have just as easily remained supervised in society. Probation personnel can further monitor compliance with court terms and conditions.
Many offenders present a risk to community safety, even if it's because the person persists in the risky behaviours associated with alcohol or drug abuse. Letting any offender free poses somewhat of a risk, however slight. The courts, judges, defence and prosecuting attorneys and probation personnel weigh these risks and balance them with the best interests of the probationer and victim. Usually, probation personnel monitor high-risk offenders closely through home arrest or electronic monitoring.
Victims vary widely as to their perspective and feelings regarding probation for their offenders. In some cases, they may quickly forgive the individual and even build a relationship with them. In other situations, they may petition the courts for harsh penalties. Probation allows the courts to monitor the defendant's activities in the community while he works and repays any restitution that he owes his victims. Some victims, however, may care more about his punishment than reimbursement.
- DC Public Safety Blog: What Works? Evidence-Based Practices in Parole and Probation
- Introduction to Criminal Justice; Larry J. Siegel; 2010
- New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services: History of Probation, Meet John Augustus
- PEW Center on the States: Prison Count 2010
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