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.