The Burden of Inappropriate Probation
The term probation has roots in the Latin word “probatio,” which translates to “testing.” This is a fitting name, given that in the United States probation serves as a testing period for offenders to prove that they are capable of changing their ways and rehabilitating back into their communities. Probation is essentially an agreement between the defendant and the government, in which the court forgoes a certain amount of punishment if the defendant agrees to adhere to a probation program that dictates rules they must follow based on the severity of their offense. However, over time the popularity of probation sentencing has grown and in many cases the probation requirements may be more extreme than the offense that was committed.
The concept of probation in the US stemmed from humanitarian efforts to give first-time or minor offenders a second chance. Since the US Federal Probation Service was established in 1925 under Calvin Coolidge’s presidency, this sentencing alternative to prison has expanded to every state in the US. According to the most recent data published by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, there are nearly 4.8 million American adults currently under community supervision through probation or parole. That means that approximately 1 in every 51 adults in the US is under one of these supervision programs.
As of January 2015, New Jersey had over 128 thousand individuals under community supervision, which represents over 2.6% of the national total of probationers. New Jersey ranked the 11th highest state with the most individuals under supervision.
The consequences of probation can vary greatly based on the crime committed, the offender’s background, and the assessment by the community corrections official. Common probation restrictions include:
- Remaining employed
- Adhering to a curfew
- Refraining from the possession of firearms
- Remaining within the jurisdiction
- Avoiding contact with their victims
- Abstaining from drugs or alcohol
Additionally, individuals may be required to pay fines, perform community services, or seek counseling for health problems or substance abuse. According to the New York Times, only two-thirds of probationers successfully complete their terms, indicating that the system may not be operating effectively.
Probation officers are assigned to offenders to ensure that they follow all of the terms outlined in their probation. The level of supervision varies, depending on the offense committed. For example, repeat offenders, violent criminals, sex offenders, and gang members may be subject to electronic monitoring so that officials can keep watch on their movements, as well as computer monitoring, GPS tracking, home detention, and unannounced home or workplace check-ins. The New Jersey Judiciary has an Intensive Supervision program, also known as ISP, which focuses on the most serious offenders and imposes strict guidelines and a higher level of supervision. Violating one’s probation can lead to imprisonment, increased fines, and more intense monitoring.
In New Jersey in particular, state courts collect more than $20 million annually from probationers through imposed fines, indicating that this system is also a source of funding for the state. The strict rules and monetary costs of probation can be crippling for individuals and families, often preventing probationers from being hired or changing jobs, moving to a new home, and improving their quality of life. Frequently, first-time offenses for drunk driving and misdemeanor crimes can result in years of probation restrictions and supervision that can cause damaging emotional and financial impacts.
If you need legal support navigating your way through probation sentencing or hearings, the criminal defense attorneys at Rosenberg | Perry & Associates can help assess your options and provide experienced legal counsel. We will diligently work to assert your rights and deliver the best possible outcome in court.