Probation is a form of supervision for juveniles who are not required to stay in detention. When a youth is on probation they are supervised by an individual called a probation officer in most instances. The probation officer will do what is called a social history investigation in which they learn about the background of the youth who is on probation. The investigation can include such information as the crimes the youth committed, a list of friends and relatives, and demographic information.
Probation can serve many different purposes. For youths who did something wrong but it is not considered that serious by the local authorities, probation is the punishment for a crime committed. Probation is also for youths who may be facing a more serious punishment but are out on “bail” while they await their fate. Probation can also serve as a form of parole in some situations for youths who are being released from “prison” for whatever offense they committed. When a youth is released to a probation officer’s supervision this is also called aftercare.
While the youth is on probation certain rules have to be followed. Some of these rules include curfews, restrictions on travel, school attendance, and attending meetings with the probation officer. Failure to comply with these rules could lead to a warrant being issued for the arrest of the youth and possible placement in detention.
School is where teachers may be involved. It is not unheard of for probation officers to visit schools and talk to teachers. The probation officer may ask about attendance and or about academic progress as the are metrics for determining if the youth is cooperating or not.
Certain additional actions may be required as well. For example, at times youth are required to do community service, provide restitution to whoever was the victim of their crimes, and or undergo counseling. What forms of actions the youth has to perform really depends on the scope of the crimes they are accused of.
Philosophies on Supervision
Different states and people within juvenile justice have varying views on the role of probation. Some see probation as being a balanced approach between punishment and restorative views. In the minds of people who believe in a balanced approach, they are looking for probation to provide competency development, acountability, and community safety. An important function in a balanced approach would be community service as it holds a youth responsibility while also restoring community relationships.
Others hold to a punitive model, in this approach the goal is to punish the offender. Such a get-tough approach could involve the probation officer and even police coming to the youth’s home and explaining the rules of probation along with the consequences. The probation team may even search the home of the youth looking for violations of probation. Naturally, this approach often builds animosity between the youth and the probation officer.
Another view is called restorative justice. This approach involves a focus on repairing relationships within the community through mediation and meetings between the victim and perpetrator. The real goal of this approach is to empower the local community to deal with the inappropriate behavior of their youth. As such, this is often a team of probation and local community leaders who work together to help young people who have made mistakes. This approach sounds good on paper but the decline in community responsibility over the years makes it difficult to implement.
Probation has been around for over 100 years and is not going anywhere anytime soon. As such, there is a place for all of these approaches yet none have been consistently found to be superior to any other. Therefore, different approaches are appropriate for different situations.