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Probation and Parole: Development, Changes, Purpose, Advantages, and Significant Court Cases

Probation, Development, and Purpose

Probation is a sentence of imprisonment that is suspended. Probation goes back to the 14th century in England. The first U.S. probation officer was John Augustus, who in the 1850s offered to take carefully selected offenders into his home. In 1878, Massachusetts officially enacted a law for probation. In 1897, other states followed Massachusetts by adding probation officers. By 1925, all 48 states had adopted probation. In the same year, the federal government enacted probation legislation. Today, 20% to 60% of convicted are sentenced to probation. 

Parole, Differences, and Similarities with Probation

Parole is the status of a convicted offender who has been conditionally released from prison by a paroling authority before the expiration of his or her sentence. Parole differs from probation because parolees have served in jail then released before the sentence is complete, whereas probation is not based on jail service and is decided by a judge during sentencing. They are alike in terms of not serving time in prison for the rest of the sentence. 

Advantages of Probation and Parole

  • Lower cost: Imprisonment is expensive.
  • Increased employment: Offenders can work full time.
  • Restitution: Offenders who can work are candidates for court-ordered restitution.
  • Community support: Released is usually based on family and other social ties.
  • Reduced risk of criminal socialization: Probation isolated offenders from other criminals in jails.
  • Increased use of community services: Use of treatment offered in the community.
  • Increased opportunity for rehabilitation: Good behavior is rewarded by paroling and probation.

Disadvantages of Probation and Parole

  • Relative lack of punishment: They are not considered punishment
  • Increased risk to the community: Offenders might be dangerous to the community.
  • Increased social costs: They might be a social liability.
  • Discriminatory and unequal effects: Reentry programs are hard on women.

Significant Court Cases That Have Impacted the Practice of Probation and Parole

  • Samson V. California (2000): Police officers may conduct a warrantless search of a person who is subject to a parole search condition.
  • U.S. V. Knights (2001): The warrantless search extends to police officers when supported by reasonable suspicion.
  • Pennsylvania Board of Probation and Parole V. Scott (1998): The exclusion rule does not apply to searches by parole officers.
  • Griffin V. Wisconsin (1987): Probation officers may conduct probationer’s residence without a search warrant or probable cause. 

The job of probation and parole officers, and The Role They Play in the Sentencing of Convicted Offenders

The job of probation and parole officers comprises four functions:

  • Pre-sentence investigation
  • Other intake procedures
  • Diagnosis and needs assessment
  • Client supervision

The pre-sentence investigation and the probation officer recommendation help the judge with choosing the best sentence.

Intermediate sanctions, How They Differ From More Traditional Forms of Sentencing, and Their Advantages

Intermediate sanctioning is the use of split sentencing, shock probation or parole, shock incarceration, community service, intensive supervision, or home confinement in place of other, more traditional sanctions.

Intermediate differs because traditional sentencing is part of the intermediate sentence.

Intermediate sanctions have three primary advantages:

  • Less Expensive than imprisonment
  • They are socially cost effective
  • They provide flexibility

Changes in Probation and Parole and What Does the Future Hold for Them

Parole violators account for more than half of the prison admissions in many states. Many researchers claim probation and parole are not fair and do not help reduce recidivism. Many new programs have been added to the probation and parole system to improve it. An example is the Second Chance Act, which was introduced in 2007. The principal purpose of the act is to reduce recidivism.

Photo © County of Santa Barbara Probation Department –

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