What is Probation?

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  • Written By: Felicia Dye
  • Edited By: Heather Bailey
  • Last Modified Date: 12 August 2018
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Probation is a type of punishment that may be ordered by a court when a person is found guilty of certain crimes. It gives the judicial system power over a person by outlining a probationary period. During this time, there may be a number of activities and behaviors which are required or forbidden. This type of punishment may be available in the state and federal judicial systems, but it is not an option for all offenses.

There are two ways that this type of punishment can be used. A person may be ordered to serve a shortened period of incarceration followed by a probationary period instead of having to serve his full sentence. In other instances, a person may be given a sentence that is fully excused if he successfully completes his probation.

Probation is a lingering obligation. It involves the threat of future action if a person does not act according to the will of the court. The probationary period normally includes a list of things that a person must do and may not do. For example, a person may be required to obtain counseling, keep a job, and stay within a certain jurisdiction. In some instances, adherence is monitored by a probation officer, but this is not always the case.


If a person does not want to live by the conditions outlined, he can opt for incarceration. A defendant generally has to agree to probation. A judge is not allowed to simply order probationary periods because he wants to exercise authority over a person’s life. A person may want to reject this option for a variety of reasons. Common motives are risk or conditions that outweigh the potential sentence.

For example, a man may be found guilty of the domestic abuse of his girlfriend. His sentence may have the option to serve a year in jail or six months in jail with six months probation. One of his conditions may be that he is to have no contact with the woman. Knowing that he is unlikely to adhere to this condition and that she may consent initially then report him when she is angry, he may opt to serve the full jail term.

The conditions that are outlined during the probationary period may also not seem worthy to a person convicted of a crime. Perhaps he is faced with 60 days in jail or probation that includes treatment, community service, and travel restrictions for six months. Since something as minor as missing treatment and crossing state borders to visit his child will be violations, he may choose the jail sentence. Violating probation often results in a harsher sentence than a person would have had if he chose to serve his original period of incarceration.


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Post 1

Another way probation can be referred to is - community correction.

Instead of the offender being locked up, he or she can "serve" the prescribed time in the community, and under the supervison of the community.

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