Probation and its various forms: According to the official government website by Prince William County (PWC), Virginia, probation is a sanction ordered by courts that “allows a person to remain in the community under the supervision of a probation officer.” The probation sentence could also include time in jail, a financial penalty, community service, and other sanctions (PWC).
There are several kinds of probation, including: a) unsupervised probation (this is generally only available for very petty crimes); b) supervised probation (this requires regular contact with a probation officer and includes specific rules — no alcohol, etc. — that must be adhered to); c) community control (in this case the person on probation may be under house arrest and/or have ankle monitoring); and d) shock probation (the judge in this case may put the probationer in prison just to shock him, then release him on probation) (LaMance, 2012).
Probation and recidivism: A report by the Justice Strategies group shows that in 2006, nationwide, 18% of people who exited probation were “incarcerated due to failure under supervision” (Rios, p. iv). The Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) presents data that show (in 2011) “Two-thirds (66%) of probationers competed their terms of supervision or were discharged early during 2011, about the same percentage as in 2010.” The BJS reports that 5.5% of probationers “at risk of failing were incarcerated at some point during 2011,” and that is the same rate of recidivism as in 2010 (BJS).
Types of offenders suited for probation: It appears that the offenders who are convicted of petty crimes (theft, DUI, pickpockets, receiving stolen goods, illegal breaking and entry, minor drug offenses, etc.) — especially those arrested for the first time — are best suited for probation. They were not violent and they did not use weapons or threaten harm to anyone. They should get a second chance to prove they can abide by the law.
Types of offenders not suited for probation: these would include violent criminals, rapists, drug smugglers, repeat felons, those using weapons in a robbery, those committing homicides, terrorists and others guilty of serious crimes against society. The seriousness of their offenses does not lead prosecutors and judges to cut them any slack.
Compare the effectiveness of incarceration with its impact on recidivism: It seems that incarceration is not the complete solution when it comes to punishing an offender. The Bureau of Justice Statistics reports the following vis-a-vis incarceration and recidivism: a) among 300,000 prisoners that were released from prisons in 15 states in 1994, “67.5% were rearrested for a felony or serious misdemeanor within 3 years” (BJS); b) the BJS reports that in 2007, 1,180,469 individuals were on parole and were “at-risk of reincarceration” (16% were in fact reincarcerated); and c) the highest rates of recidivism were robbers (70.2%), burglars (74%), larcenists (74.6%), car thieves (78.8%) (BJS).
The benefits of community corrections and intermediate sanctions: Because states spend so much for incarcerating offenders, there has been an attempt to provide community-based supervisor. Probation is considered “a front-end approach” because instead of serving time and becoming enveloped in the negative cultures in prison a person remains in the community. Also, it should be noted that the average cost of keeping an offender in prison is about $78.95 per day, but probation costs about $3.42 a day (Katz, et al., 2004). Another sanction that is less expensive and keeps the offender out of the grim realities of penal institutions is “restorative justice,” which brings the offender together with the victim; and alternative sentencing courts are also a positive community option for offenders.
Bureau of Justice Statistics. (2012). One in 34 U.S. Adults Under Correctional Supervision in
2011, Lowest Rate Since 2000. Office of Justice Programs. Retrieved January 28, 2013, from http://bjs.ojp.usdoj.gov/content/pub/press/cpus11ppus11pr.cfm.
Katz, Joanne, and Bonham, Gene. (2004). Effective Alternatives to Incarceration: Police
Collaborations with Corrections and Communities. U.S. Department of Justice, retrieved
January 28, 2013, from: http://www.cops.usdoj.gov.
LaMance, Ken. (2012). What Types of Probation are There? Legal Match. Retrieved January 28,
2013, from http://www.legalmatch.com.
Prince William County. (2013). What is Probation? Retrieved January 28, 2013, from http://www.pwcgov.org.
Rios, Nestor, and Greene, Judith. (2009). Reducing Recidivism: A Review of Effective State
Initiatives. Justice Strategies. Retrieved January 28, 2013, from http://www.justicestrategies.net.
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