Informal probation is a form of conditional sentence which may be offered to first time offenders who admit to minor crimes. In informal probation, the terms of the sentence are reduced in the hopes of helping the criminal rehabilitate and avoid future crimes. If someone on informal probation violates the terms of the probation, the sentence can be revoked. Revocation can result in formal probation or jail time, depending on the nature of the violation and the circumstances of the original crime.
Summary probation, as it is also known, is often offered to juvenile offenders. When an offender confesses to a relatively minor crime, the judge may determine that sending the offender to jail will not be productive. It could result in exposure to hardened criminals, which might increase the risk of recidivism. The judge might determine that informal probation is a more appropriate punishment. With juveniles in particular this is a concern because going to jail could disrupt school and home life and may potentially result in future bad behavior.
People on informal probation are not assigned to a probation officer and are not monitored. Instead, they are asked to report to the judge periodically. The probation may have terms, such as a requirement to attend an alcohol or other drug treatment program. Community service requirements may also need to be completed. Informal probation can be as short as a month. Once probation is over, the offender has satisfied the terms of the sentence.
This less intrusive approach to probation involves less supervision. The offender is expected to act with some self-direction to fulfill the terms of the probation agreement and complete the sentence as handed down. When the offender reports to the judge on the progress of the probation, evidence must be shown that the terms of the probation are being followed. For example, if the offender was ordered to go to counseling, the counselor would have to appear to testify that the offender is being seen.
Probation violations will result in another hearing in which the judge will adjust the sentence. The person may be put on formal probation or sent to jail, depending on the nature of the violation. By providing alternatives to jail for minor offenders on their first violation, judges hope to prevent recidivism and promote rehabilitation. Intervention at an early stage can help people avoid behavior cycles which tend to lead to escalating levels of criminality.