Free «Probation as an Alternative to Incarceration in Violent Crimes» Essay

Probation as an Alternative to Incarceration in Violent Crimes


Systems that give prisoners the opportunity to stay out of prison were developed as alternatives to incarceration. Some of the most used include community service, probation, parole, addiction treatment and therapy ordered by the court (Binder, Geis & Bruce, 1997). While they may not be widely accepted, some schools of thought are of the idea that they are cheaper for the community, prevent overcrowding of prisons and offers better opportunities for rehabilitation of prisoners. This paper seeks to evaluate and offer insight into probation as an alternative to incarceration.

What is incarceration?

Incarceration is a kind of confinement of convicted felons. This is usually in safe houses and prisons. Men and women are almost always put in separate facilities, and juvenile delinquents are also separated in accordance to their gender. The prisoners that demonstrate good behavior can be allowed to leave the prison grounds to perform certain jobs that have to be approved. After being done with their work shift they are expected to return to the facility grounds.

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Incarceration is advantageous in that it houses the most violent offenders. This means that the streets are relatively safe with them behind bars. Some prison programs offer rehabilitation services and other facilities educational programs. This allows the inmates to leave the facilities with some training, treatment for their addiction and supervised care.

However, the large rate of criminal activities in the United States is translated by the overcrowding of the prison facilities. The government then had to come up with alternatives to incarceration. Some of these alternatives included; probation, parole, community service, and court ordered therapy or rehabilitation programmers.

History of Probation

A Boston cobbler named, John Augustus invented probation in 1841 when he persuaded the police to release a drunkard into his custody instead of sending him to prison which was the standard way of dealing with crimes at that time. In 1843 he took in children who had been caught stealing and by 1846 the number of children under his care had reached 30 (Policy Research Project on Evaluating Training Needs of Probation Officers, 1992). In total Augustus bailed out eleven hundred people, both male and female and also secured the release of many children.

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Massachusetts law dictated that a state agent be presented if court proceedings were to lead to the release of a child in a reformatory. This provided the guidelines for modern caseworkers. The state agents were to protect the interests of the child, and search for placement elsewhere. Before the trial they were supposed to investigate the case and the most fundamental of their roles was to supervise the child after probation was granted.

Consequently Massachusetts was the first to pass the probation statute in 1878. This made official a probation system with probation officers in their play. After that, other states quickly followed suit and by 1930 juvenile probation was made official in every state except Wyoming (Binder, Geis & Bruce, 1997).

What are the types of probation?

Although governed by the same concept, there are different types of probation.

One of them is unsupervised probation where the felon is not constantly supervised by the probation officer. However they are required to follow the general rules and regulations of probation (Policy Research Project on Evaluating Training Needs of Probation Officers, 1992).

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In supervised probation, the person of interest is mandated to check in after certain periods with their probation officer. This may vary between weekly and monthly and may be in the form of telephone calls. They are also required to follow imposed rules and regulation (Texas Adult Probation Commission, 1981).

There is also shock probation which is a strategic move by law enforcers. The judge in this case sentences the plaintiff to a maximum jail term or prison sentence. However, after a short period the offender is given probation. This is supposed to frighten or shock the offender, and hence he will abide by probationary rules and regulations.

Crime-specific probation is where drugs and sex offences, which are regarded as more serious crimes, require the offender to obtain rehabilitation, placement on a local registry and counseling (Policy Research Project on Evaluating Training Needs of Probation Officers, 1992).

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Additionally, there is community control which is a variation of supervised probation, but more involving. The offender’s activities and movements are continually monitored and ankle monitoring and house arrest devices are often used in this probation.

Non-adjudicated probation puts an offender’s case on hold before he is convicted. If the offender completes the probation period, the criminal case is often dismissed. Non-adjudicated probation typically runs for a period between six months and two years.

There is another type of sentencing that is regarded to as diversion which technically, is not classified as a probation sentence. This is because it involves treatment of the felon and starts even before the trial has begun. Upon successful completion of the program, the possibility of having the case dismissed is higher, and when it is dismissed, the case is cleared from their record (Binder, Geis & Bruce, 1997).

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Probation violation

When an offender is granted probation, they are required to adhere to certain rules and regulations. Some of the conditions the offender is expected to adhere to include attending meetings with their probation supervisor and maintaining a form of legitimate employment and/or sign up for treatment as provided for by the court (Policy Research Project on Evaluating Training Needs of Probation Officers, 1992).

Any impeachment of these is regarded as a violation of probation and may have dire consequences. Some of these consequences are re-evaluation of the probation terms, imposition of modified and stricter regulations, and revocation of the probation. Moreover, the offender may be required to serve the original jail term (Texas Adult Probation Commission, 1981)

Advantages of probation

Probation as an alternative to incarceration is advantageous in many ways. Some of the advantages include:

  • Stability. During probation, the offender is required to find and maintain a legitimate form of employment. Consequently he continues to contribute to the well-being of the society. His life and the life of his family members are not interrupted, and this provides stability to their lives.
  • Cost. Incarceration is more costly than probation which it costs the taxpayer less. Probation expenditure is reduced because offenders are required to contribute to some of the cost incurred during their supervision.
  • Rehabilitation. After being granted probation, the offender is regularly expected in participating in rehabilitation programs. They are attended to by professionals who help them in dealing with their day to day issues.
  • Supervision. To ensure that society’s security is guaranteed and to avoid the occurrence of new offences, high risk offenders, are put under close supervision. They are monitored more closely than lesser offenders.
  • Clean slate. This is mostly for the first time offenders, who upon completion of their probation are offered a clean slate. This includes having their record wiped of that crime. However, the offender is still required to file a motion for the expunging of the case from his record. Different states have different ways of handling such cases (Policy Research Project on Evaluating Training Needs of Probation Officers. 1992).

Disadvantages of probation

As successful as probation is, it has its disadvantages including:

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Community stigmas where offenders that are granted probation are often stigmatized by the community since they often receive harsh reactions and are stigmatized. Some of the members of society do not think that convicted felons should not be allowed back into society because it is possible for them to commit crimes.

Few job prospects because one of the requirements when seeking employment is that offenders disclose their criminal records, parole status or probation status. However, in most cases employers are not ready to hire persons with criminal records. Therefore, offenders are forced to seek minimal wage employment. As a solution to this problem, some states like Tennessee offer work opportunity tax credits to those employers that offer employment to offenders on probation (Texas Adult Probation Commission, 1981).

Probation is associated with very strict rules and regulations. Some of the offenders find it hard to adjust to the lifestyle that comes with probation. They may not be allowed to indulge in alcohol consumption, are supposed to be at home at a certain time and should not miss their meetings with their probation officers. This may sometimes be too much to handle.

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Inconsistency in monitoring; different probation officers have varied interpretations, when it comes to probation violations. For instance if an offender missed a therapy session, one probation officer may term it as a probation violation and send them back to jail. Whereas another probation officer may simply seek an explanation from the offender for their absence (Policy Research Project on Evaluating Training Needs of Probation Officers, 1992).

Smart probation strategies

More often than not probation officers are often overwhelmed by the numbers of offenders. Some of these caseloads are unmanageable. As a result of this, judges are given the option of sending repeat offenders for lengthy periods of time or disregarding probation and parole violations. There have thus emerged justice systems that offer cheaper better other options that are more effective.  Consequently more states have adopted these strategies as a way of improving probation outcomes and dealing with drug-related offences. Some of these programs include; Alaska’s Probationer Accountability with Certain Enforcement (PACE), Arizona’s Swift Accountability, Fair Enforcement (SAFE), Delaware’s “Decide Your Time”.  A successful case study of smart probation strategies is Hawaii’s Opportunity Probation with Enforcement (HOPE) (Texas Adult Probation Commission. 1981). This is because it has shown positive results in the fight against drugs and acceptance of felons back into the community. It was started in 2004.  It employs the use of drug tests and strict, enforced prohibitions in order to deal with the offender’s criminal behavior and his drug use. Research institutes used HOPE participants to gauge the effectiveness of smart probation programs. They compared the participants with probationers that had been placed in a control group and one year later, the numbers stood at; 55% of the HOPE participants were less likely to be commit a new crime, 72% of them were less likely to be drug users and 61% were less likely to skip appointments with their probation officers and 53% were less likely to get revocation of their probation (American Bar Association, 2007).

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However as, opposed to the normal probation, smart probation is slightly more expensive. It costs approximately 2500 dollars per probationer. The extra money is nonetheless compensated in the savings made by reducing treatment, incarceration and other incurred costs (Policy Research Project on Evaluating Training Needs of Probation Officers, 1992).

The difference between parole and probation

Both parole and probation are methods of holding off a punishment, of petty offenders and low-crime offenders, which in most cases is usually jail term. This is on condition that the defendant follows some rules and regulations; however, there is a difference between the two. Probation is implemented when a criminal is convicted of a crime. The traditional option is an active jail term. For low level crimes or misdemeanor crimes the judge would have the option of sentencing the felon to a jail term or he or she might suspend the sentence and place the defendant on probation. While on probation, the defendant has rules and regulations that guide him until his probation is over. Some of these rules are that, the defendant cannot leave the area that he lives in, has regular meetings with probation officers, avoid committing any crimes and be limited movements (Jacobson, 2005).  He would also be required to seek active work and go through some programs that may be ordered by the court. These may include counseling, therapy and rehabilitation for felons that are addicted to a certain drug.











On the other hand parole comes into play after the defendant has done jail term. If they have met some requirements of good behavior, then they become candidates. Parole is governed by some rules and regulations that are similar to those of probation. When the defendants clear their parole period, they are discharged from parole and considered free. The consequence of revoking parole is that the defendant might be required to spend the remaining term in active jail term (Policy Research Project on Evaluating Training Needs of Probation Officers, 1992).

Is probation effective?

Probation as an alternative to incarceration is a cheaper method of handling crime offenders. Probation services cost generally less than ten dollars a day, and around a hundred and twenty five dollars per person. On the other hand, the alternative, that is, incarceration costs a hundred dollars or more per day while juvenile and out-of-home placements around two hundred and fifty dollars for each child. Regardless of the fact that the surveillance equipment needed is relatively expensive, the overall concept is less expensive than other options. In Carver County, the percentage of successful incorporation back into the society is much higher than that of the unsuccessful cases.  To illustrate this, in the year 2010 the percentage of successful discharges was 87% as compared to the 13% of unsuccessful discharges (American Bar Association, 2007).

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The supervising of offenders in the community along with the implemented inhibitions imposed, and treatment is more effective in facilitating long-term behavioral change as opposed to incarceration alone.

The effectiveness of probation is enhanced by the collaboration between the local community and the justice system. There is also the monitoring of results and outcomes of probation programs. A disadvantage to using probation as an alternative to incarceration is that, some felons are beyond help and if they are given probation or parole, they would go back to doing crimes in society or seek revenge. The limited movements, strict regulations and continuous supervision however counter this limitation.


Probation is an effective and a cost-effective alternative to incarceration. It reduces the congestion in prisons and incarcerator institutions. It also helps in the rehabilitation of crime offenders. The close proximity of the offenders and the society makes sure that their change is witnessed by the society and this in turn helps in their incorporation back into society (Texas Adult Probation Commission, 1981).

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