Juvenile probation is a form of sentencing that allows young offenders to remain in their communities while under the supervision of the court. During the probationary period, a juvenile may be required to follow certain terms or conditions.
Probation can be used at the front end of the juvenile’s sentence instead of confinement for low-risk and first-time offenders, or it can be used at the end of sentencing for those juveniles incarcerated in a juvenile facility.
Children under probation are expected to stay on good behavior. They go to school, participate in school activities, and return home to finish homework. Some youth offenders on probation have jobs, and others may be required to work on special projects such as volunteer jobs in their communities. Though probation is a better alternative than out-of-home placement, a probation sentence still limits the freedom of a juvenile offender.
Juvenile probation programs are ideally set up to help young people correct their behaviors without removing them from their communities. These offenders are not adults, and they depend on their parents or guardians for a place to sleep, food to eat, and clothes to wear. They also, whether they want to or not, rely on adults to guide them. Juvenile offenders may not want to accept help from guardians or parents, but juvenile probation officers rely on adults close to the young people to encourage and assist in the program.
Many youth offenders have learned their lessons in juvenile court or incarceration in juvenile facilities, and they try their best to follow the rules and sanctions set down by the court. They are children, however, and are often coerced by peers to “break the rules.” In these cases, the assigned probation officer relies on the parents or guardians to report case violations.
Violations of the sanctions imposed by the court or failure to live up to the conditions of the probations will lead to a Violation of probation. If this happens, the court could revoke probation and place the offender in a residential facility, demand more intensive counseling programs, or further restrict the freedom of the offender.
What Can a Probation Officer and the System do for Delinquent Children?
According to the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, more than half of the cases brought before a juvenile court result in a child being sentenced to probation. In 2010 alone, there were almost 250,000 juveniles sentenced to probation.
Once sentenced, a juvenile is assigned a probation officer, who usually is responsible for overseeing that the offender is attending class, working at an acceptable location, and following all the guidelines and conditions of their sentence. Many probation officers who believe in the system and their jobs, do more than police a child on probation. They listen, comfort, guide, and provide a friendly shoulder for the juvenile offender.
Jurisdictions differ from area to area, but all agree that youth probation officers are more than just guards over a juvenile’s time. Many probation officers say that incarceration or lock-up is the last resort. Instead, probation should be used to rehabilitate offenders and lessen the chances that a youth re-offends. The solution is to get to the root of the problem and steer behavior in the right direction.
Courts and probation systems are moving away from control, coercion, incarceration with no treatment component, boot camps, and programs that scare children into good behavior—programs that have been shown to cause recidivism.
Probation officers with backgrounds in social work have more of a focus on rehabilitation rather than punishment. A good probation officer assesses the needs of the child and determines what is best. All probation officers agree that the most successful programs include the child’s parents and guardians. Supportive families provide a way for offenders to change their lives and turn toward productive activities.
Children placed in the probation system have successful turnaround statistics when enrolled in counseling and therapy services that work with their needs and the needs of their families.
Services like Multisystemic Therapy (MST), a scientifically proven intervention tool for at-risk youth, have good track records for turning around the lives of troubled youth. When a community uses evidence-based programs like MST in conjunction with their juvenile justice system, several positive outcomes are returned: cost savings, enhanced public safety, and lower rates of recidivism to name a few. Though reformation of systems can be a tedious process, communities can start working together today to play a positive role.
For more related content, visit our Juvenile Justice Reform Resource page by clicking here.