What is Shock Probation?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 15 February 2020
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Shock probation is probation which is offered after a prisoner has served a part of his or her sentence, usually around three to six months. The idea behind it is that the early stages of an incarceration are often the most difficult, and that they may startle a prisoner into good behavior once released. Shock probation is believed to reduce recidivism rates because it arranges for a prisoner release while a prisoner is still in shock from immersion into the penal system, in contrast with a prisoner who is released after several years who may have adjusted to the system and even picked up traits which may contribute to recidivism.

In shock probation, someone is sentenced to prison and starts serving the sentence. After three to six months, the judge resentences the prisoner to probation, and the prisoner is released under supervision. It is usually considered when a prisoner is a first time offender and a judge believes, given the circumstances of the case, that the prisoner has a chance at reform which may be enhanced by being released.


This term is sometimes used interchangeably with “split sentence,” but the two concepts are different. In a split sentence, at the time of the initial sentencing hearing the judge declares that the convicted person will be sent to prison and then released on probation after a certain amount of time. While the effect, a brief stay in prison followed by probation, is the same, split sentencing and shock probation differ because one is prearranged and the other is offered later.

In addition to potentially reducing recidivism, shock probation also addresses prison overcrowding, a common problem in many regions of the world. By removing prisoners, judges free up room in prisons. Overcrowding is dangerous both for prisoners and prison personnel, and it itself can also contribute to the development of recidivism because low-risk prisoners may end up in close and prolonged contact with hardened criminals.

Shock probation is a privilege, not a right, and it is at the discretion of the judge. Judges began quietly using this option in the 1960s, and it grew as an approach to criminal justice in the 1970s. If a prisoner is potentially eligible for shock probation under the law, his or her lawyer will discuss the matter and provide more information about how the terms of the probation will work and whether or not the judge is likely to offer it as an option.


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Post 8

If the offender has not had any other felony convictions over five years or was a youthful offender, the judge may grant the offender shock probation. The judge takes into consideration many factors and at the end it is up to the judge and the judge alone. In many cases the judge grants shock probation to the offender given this PSI classification level. Also, having a good lawyer definitely helps.

Post 6

What about if a person is convicted of a C class felony in New York state for possession of a loaded firearm? Would this person still be eligible for shock probation? The firearm was purchased legally, and the person has never committed any other crimes.

Post 5

Shock probation as an alternative to ridiculously long prison terms for addicts and alcoholics is a good idea. Addiction and alcoholism are associated with criminal activity, but if more addicts receive treatment it is a treatable disease. I vote for rehab vs. prison. Build more state funded rehabs not prisons, an incubator to perpetuate crime.

Post 4

There are too many lengthy prison terms for addicts. That is why there is overcrowding. Rehab works better for addicts than prison. I think our penal system is in the dark ages and more rehabs need to be built. We should be trying to mend, not break people.

Many inmates in the prison system are beat up and raped. I think there is a more humane way to treat addiction than sending someone to prison for fifteen years. Unfortunately, addicts commit crimes such as burglary to support their habit. If education was treatment rather than punishment, there would be less reason to build more jails.

Shock probation is a good alternative to help save inmates who can reform, as opposed to excessively long prison terms and burdens on government funds. I would much rather see addicts be given a chance to reform than leaving them in prison to get sicker.

Post 3

@LTimmins - I totally agree with you! If you look at the last paragraph of the article, it says that lawyers can advise their clients about shock probation. If someone is charged with a felony conviction, of course they'll be on good behavior in order to be free as soon as possible. Perhaps solving the problem of overcrowded prisons would be a better idea? An intensive reform program for first-time prisoners might also help to keep them out of trouble once they're released.

Post 2

@LTimmins - You've got quite a strong opinion there and while I agree on some points, I do also think that shock probation could work in some select cases. For example, a first time offender who might have committed a minor crime - say a burglary - might be suitably shocked by the consequences of their actions after spending some time in prison. Don't forget that they're still under supervision for some time upon release, so they're not entirely free from the eyes of the law just yet.

Post 1

I'm not sure at all that I like the idea of shock probation! I'm sure it would be easy for criminals to avoid any probation violations for a few months and then return to their old ways once their out. The argument that this type of probation reduces overcrowding in prisons seems to be null. Prisoners should carry out their full sentence instead of being allowed back into society after such a short time!

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