A probation order is a court order setting out the terms of a conditional release of a prisoner. People can be offered probation in lieu of spending time in prison, or can serve part of a sentence in prison and part out on probation. If the probation order is violated, the criminal must return to prison to serve out the sentence. Law enforcement officers known as probation officers are responsible for supervising inmates on probation and making reports to the court.
A judge will consider probation in a case when a prisoner does not appear to pose a threat to members of the public. The probation order can set out limits like not associating with certain people, staying away from some locations, refraining from illegal activities, and participating in a rehabilitation program. The goal of the probation order is to allow the person to integrate into the community while serving the sentence, potentially providing an opportunity to rehabilitate and become a productive member of society.
Sending people out on probation can save money for the legal system. Keeping people in prison can become costly, especially if special security measures are needed to protect inmates from each other. Probation is less expensive, requiring payment to a single law enforcement officer who oversees a number of inmates rather than maintenance of a prison system. As long as a criminal seems unlikely to repeat a crime, a probation order can be written to allow that person to serve out the sentence in the community.
Victims may have input on the sentencing process, including the determination of whether someone should be allowed probation. Victims can also request special terms on a probation order, like an order to stay away or a mandate to participate in a community service program. While victims cannot dictate the wording of the order, their input is considered by the judge in the process of developing the order, and victim advocates may be involved in the process of facilitating communications between victims and the courts.
Once a probation order is issued, the terms will be explained and the inmate will usually need to sign a document indicating understanding and acceptance of the terms. The probation order includes a warning that failing to adhere to the terms can result in being sent back to prison, depending on the nature of the offense. Probation officers are involved in determining whether a probation violation should send someone back to prison, or be forgiven because there were special circumstances.