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History of Probation and Parole

Probation is a sentence that offenders are handed in during their jail time. While on probation, offenders are allowed to coexist in their communities as long as they adhere to the terms and regulations given by their probation officers or judges. In most cases, probation is usually reserved for offenders who commit nonviolent crimes, and they are usually required to report frequently to their probation officers. The history of probation could be traced back to the English common law when courts had the power to suspend executions if offenders appealed to monarchs for pardon. Probation in the United States dates back to 1841. John Augustus, a Boston cobbler, convinced a judge to free convicted offender under his care for a short while. He promised to present the offender in court during the sentencing. Later in 1878, the first probation officer was recognized by American courts, and he was a former police officer. In 1925, the national probation act was later introduced 1925, and it allowed courts to place offenders on supervised probation for specified periods. The federal probation service was also established in 1925 (Labrecque, 2017).

One of the primary goals of probation is to rehabilitate offenders, which further protects the society from crimes conducted by the offenders. However, courts tend to grant parole to first-time offenders only. It is statutes that determine whether offenders are eligible for probation, but the judges determine whether to grant offenders’ parole. However, although judges have the power to grant offenders parole, they have to remain within the statutory limits.

The conditions for one to be granted parole tend to vary across jurisdictions and the crimes committed by the offenders. Probation conditions also vary depending on whether they are court-supervised or probation officer supervised. The conditions for court-supervised probations are usually set by judges who further refer to statutory guidelines (MacKenzie, 2002). On the other hand, the conditions of informal probations are usually set by probation officers who are guided by state and federal guidelines. The standard conditions of probation include an appearance in court as required, meeting probation officers during scheduled times, payment of fines, submitting self to random drug tests, and avoiding people and places associated with crime.

Probation has significant effects on the criminal justice system as well as offenders. Probation offers petty offenders an alternative to incarceration, which further helps reduce overcrowding in prisons. The probation department also gets the opportunity to rehabilitate offenders through various social services, which further reduces the probability of offenders committing crimes in the future. Probation also significantly reduces taxpayers’ money by keeping offenders out of incarceration. Therefore, individuals on probation are in a position to positively contribute to the nation’s economy while outside the prison system instead of draining taxpayers’ money. Transitioning to the community after prison is also challenging most offenders. However, with probation, offenders do not need to transition back to society. In most cases, first-time offenders who complete their probation can have their criminal records expunged. However, this is usually applicable for first-time offenders who participate in special programs where after completion, they have their criminal records dismissed.

Parole, on the other hand, refers to the kind of supervision which offenders after they are realtered from prison early. It is common for people to confuse between probation and parole. It is, therefore, crucial to note that, unlike probation, parole only applies when offenders have already served a portion of their sentences. However, both probation and parole primarily focus on rehabilitating offenders and keeping them out of the prison system. Just like in probation, offenders under parole are required to adhere to strict conditions and appear before their parole officers as required. Parole is usually granted at the discretion of the parole board. For an offender to be granted parole, they, however have to meet various requirements. For instance, they must have adhered to the prison rules, their release should not disrespect the criminal justice system, and their release should not pose a threat to public safety.

Violations of the parole terms may lead one to serve the original term that was replaced, which also applies for probation. Some of the things that are considered as violations include failure to pay reinstitution fees, associating with people considered as offenders, or getting arrested. The parole officer determines whether to warn those who violate parole terms or direct them to appear before a court. Before a course of action is determined, the severity of an offense has to be considered (Ruhland, 2020).

Before the nineteenth century, offenders mainly were sentenced to determinate prison sentences. Under such sentencing, offenders were required to spending fixed periods in prison. This contributed to overcrowding in prisons, and as a result, governors had no option but to grant mass pardons to create space for new offenders. Sir Walter Crofton and captain alexander maconochie are credited for coming up with the probation system. In the United States, New York City became the first state to embrace the comprehensive parole system. By 1942, all American states had embraced the parole system. For the years that followed, released under parole significantly increased, and more prisoners were released early on parole.


Labrecque, R. M. (2017). Probation in the United States: A historical and modern perspective. Routledge Handbook of Corrections in the United States, 155-164.

MacKenzie, D. L. (2002). Probation and parole: history, goals, and decision-making. Encyclopedia of Crime and Justice, 3(2).

Ruhland, E. L. (2020). Philosophies and decision making in parole board members. The Prison Journal, 100(5), 640-661.


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