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What is Probation?

Updated on February 1, 2010

Probation is a method of rehabilitating convicted persons by allowing them to stay in the community under close supervision, rather than sentencing them to prison. It is similar to parole, which is the early release, under supervision, of imprisoned persons. A person the court places on probation is under the supervision of a probation officer, who tries to help him adjust to the problems that are considered to have caused his criminal or delinquent behavior.

If the probationer does not seem to make a satisfactory adjustment, the officer may return him to the court, where a sentence can then be imposed.

In most of the United States, probation is used primarily for youthful offenders and for first offenders. However, many criminologists feel that probation should be used in any case where it appears that the offender will not threaten the safety of the community by committing additional crimes. Probation costs the community about nine or ten times less than imprisonment. More important, many people feel that rehabilitation may be more successful outside prison than inside. Imprisonment can be harmful because convicts frequently learn new methods of crime and make friends with other criminals while they are in prison. It is also felt that the person who is locked away from society for a number of years will have difficulty readjusting to society when he is released.

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