A way to keep jails from overcrowding. In a perfect society, every criminal would serve full sentences corresponding to the crimes committed. However, since prisons are places with fixed capacities, judges have to be considerate.

Many things affect a judge when deciding between giving or not giving probation:

  • past criminal history
  • severity of crime
  • likelihood of the offender committing more crimes
  • remorsefulness of the offender

Clearly, probation benefits a criminal more than serving time in jail. However, the courts have to deliver punishment of some form. Probation sentences vary and include:

If someone with a crime-free past breaks into a car, for example, the possibility of incarceration is slim. Usually, a fine will be assessed or the sentence will be suspended. This keeps prisons from overflowing with relatively harmless people.

The responsibility of enforcing probation is giving to officers of the court. There is a difference between probation officers and probation agents in most states. Officers are the enforcers, while agents are the helpers. In both positions, one worker is responsible for many offenders. For example, Cabell County of West Virginia has a ratio of one officer for every 60 offenders. Still, this method supersedes incarceration in most cases.

Pro*ba"tion (?), n. [L. probatio, fr. probare to try, examine, prove: cf. F. probation. See Prove.]


The act of proving; also, that which proves anything; proof.


When by miracle God dispensed great gifts to the laity, . . . he gave probation that he intended that all should prophesy and preach. Jer. Taylor.


Any proceeding designed to ascertain truth, to determine character, qualification, etc.; examination; trial; as, to engage a person on probation. Hence, specifically: (a) The novitiate which a person must pass in a convent, to probe his or her virtue and ability to bear the severities of the rule. (b) The trial of a ministerial candidate's qualifications prior to his ordination, or to his settlement as a pastor. (c) Moral trial; the state of man in the present life, in which he has the opportunity of proving his character, and becoming qualified for a happier state.

No [view of human life] seems so reasonable as that which regards it as a state of probation. Paley.


© Webster 1913.

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