The probation system is a method of institutional punishment that’s based around giving people another chance instead of incarcerating them. Generally speaking, when a person is on probation, he is required to operate under a strict set of behavioral standards or risk a harsher punishment. When criminals are put on probation, it’s usually based around a time limit of months or years, and people usually have to report to a specially-assigned officer who keeps track of their behavior during the probationary period. Many people believe that probation systems have some advantages over incarceration, including less cost to the government and allowing less-deserving offenders to avoid a prison experience which might leave them mentally scarred or make them more likely to re-offend. Some people feel that the probation system is used too frequently, while others feel it isn’t used often enough.
Many people on probation have to operate under certain restrictions. For example, the person may not be allowed to leave a certain state or district without special permission. Some people are also forced to undergo tests to see if they’ve been using controlled substances. Once people are in the probation system, if they’re caught committing another crime, they will often face more severe consequences than other people, especially if the crime relates directly to their original offense.
Many different crimes may cause a person to be entered into the probation system, but it’s usually reserved for less-severe offenses and people who haven’t committed many crimes previously. For example, juvenile defendants can sometimes be more likely to receive probation than adults. Judges often take many different things into account when deciding whether or not to incarcerate or use the probation system, including things like the general attitude of the defendant, or whether the person is a parent.
The general concept of probation comes from an old practice in English courts of the medieval era of letting people buy back their freedom for a fee. This was part of an overall movement to reduce the harshness of punishments, giving people a chance to reform their behavior. During those days, the death penalty was extremely common for many different crimes and the idea of leniency for criminals was much more revolutionary. Eventually, certain activists, including a man named John Augustus, started paying to have people released from jail if they seemed like good rehabilitation candidates, and this led to more modern probation systems that are administered by the state.