Why Do We Need Probation Officers?

As you hear so often in the media about people convicted of heinous crimes:  “We should lock ’em up and through away the key!”

However, in every state in both adult and juvenile courts, thousands of people work as probation officers.  What do they do and why?

In the criminal justice process, both adult and juvenile, anyone who pleads guilty or is found guilty in a trial, receives a sentence as the punishment.  Initially, that means prison or custody in some form.  But the majority of offenders don’t go to prison.  Instead, their incarceration is suspended and they’re put on “probation.”  Typically, to stay on probation, they must obey a set of conditions ordered by the sentencing judge.  These are fashioned in every case to ensure the offender remains law-abiding and can include such things as: don’t get into criminal trouble, complete treatment, don’t use illegal drugs, get a job, go to therapy, etc.

So long as the offender obeys these, he won’t be incarcerated.  In order to manage this case load and ensure compliance, the courts all use probation officers.

The main job of a probation officer is to protect public safety by supervising the offenders’ programming.  Secondly, they offer resources to offenders in order to help them successfully complete their probation until the judge releases them from the conditions.  Probation officers are assigned a number of offenders in a case load and are responsible to monitor the offenders.  That often means regular contact with the offenders and proof of their compliance, such as a certificate of completion of treatment.  If the offender fails, the probation officer must report to the sentencing judge, a review hearing may be scheduled, and the judge would make a decision to allow the offender to remain on probation or to revoke it and send them to prison.

Although there is lots of talk among elected officials and the media about “getting tough on crime,” the fact is, research has consistently shown that for the majority of offenders (except dangerous ones) the threat of prison with probation officers monitoring, produces the most law-abiding behavior and the lowest recidivism rates.

In addition, even with the added cost of probation officers and their salaries, it’s still much cheaper for the taxpayers in comparison to putting people in prison for the same number of years.

About Colin Nelson

Colin T. Nelson worked for 40 years as a prosecutor and criminal defense lawyer in Minneapolis. He tried everything from speeding tickets to first degree murder. His writing about the courtroom and the legal system give the reader a "back door" view of what goes on, what's funny, and what's a good story. He has also traveled extensively and includes those locations in his mysteries. Some are set in Southeast Asia, Ecuador,Peru, and South Africa. Readers get a suspenseful tale while learning about new places on the planet. Colin is married, has two adult children, and plays the saxophone in various bands.

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