Probation is an alternative sentence that allows convicted offenders to stay out of jail. There are several types of probation programs, and they typically vary by what is required of the offender. The most common types of probation programs are supervised probation, unsupervised probation, community control, shock probation and crime-specific probation.
Supervised probation requires the offender to check in with his or her probation officer on a regular basis. These check-ins can be by phone or in person. Depending on the history of the offender, check-ins might be required monthly or weekly. The court typically imposes other restrictions required for probation, such as being home by a certain curfew or staying away from known criminals. Committing any crimes while on supervised probation will usually cause the probation to be revoked.
In unsupervised, or informal, probation, the offender is not assigned a probation officer. Instead, the offender is asked to report to the judge periodically. Unsupervised probation is often offered to minors who commit small crimes. Requirements associated with unsupervised probation might be to attend classes or counseling and to engage in community service.
Community control is more intensive than regular supervised probation. In community control, the offender is in the community but is constantly monitored. It might involve house arrest. Many offenders on community control wear ankle bracelets with global positioning system (GPS) devices to allow monitoring by probation officers. People placed on community control usually committed more dangerous crimes, such as violent crimes or sex offenses.
Shock probation allows individuals to receive probation after spending a short period of time in a correctional facility. The theory behind shock probation is that the individual will be frightened by his or her time locked up and will be more motivated to comply with the requirements of probation. Shock probation is most often given to first-time offenders. This type of probation is not used is some locations.
Many communities have instituted crime-specific probation programs. For example, people convicted of drug offenses often participate in drug-specific probation programs that involve education, counseling and frequent drug tests. Sex offenders might have specific requirements such as placement on a public registry or living in restricted areas.
Diversion is another type of alternative sentencing that is similar to probation. The difference is that diversion typically occurs before the trial, and if the defendant successfully completes the diversion program, criminal charges might be dropped. Diversion generally is offered to first-time offenders of minor crimes, when the defendant does not seem likely to become a repeat offender. The requirements of diversion are often similar to those of probation, such as classes, counseling and community service. If the defendant completes the requirements, he or she is able to avoid the stigma of having a criminal record.