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What is Informal Probation?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 16, 2024
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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.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a MyLawQuestions researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By anon301793 — On Nov 06, 2012

A recent acquaintance was put on informal probation for three years for grand theft for writing a bad check "with and intent to defraud." They reduced it to a misdemeanor because he did not have a prior. Now he is up for another misdemeanor charge for 4462.5 falsifying registration only three months into his informal probation and at the arraignment, and it was revoked.

Would this be considered a like crime and what can he expect the sentencing to be?

By anon253769 — On Mar 10, 2012

My grandson was given a one year probation order and an alcohol treatment order. In the sheet he was given, the probation services stated that necessary checks will be made on suitability addresses. What do they mean and what does it entail?

By wander — On Jun 26, 2011

@ValleyFiah - If a person is put on probation as a juvenile and they have been arrested they will have a criminal record. The difference with young offenders though is that their record is expunged when they become an adult, in most states this is at 18. If they are given a background check as a teen the record will show up if an employer looks at the file.

I think the best thing to do if you have a criminal record as a teenager and want to be hired by an employer is to fess up when they ask you if you have ever committed a crime and been found guilty. This is a standard question on intake applications and lying here will cost you the job once they run a check.

By letshearit — On Jun 24, 2011

I feel that informal probation is a good option for young offenders who are committing a first offense. Often teenagers do stupid things under the influence of their peers such as shoplifting and drinking underage. In these cases I think a good judge can scare a kid straight with community service and having to report back to him.

In most cases I believe that younger people are just trying to be cool, and once they are facing a real authority figure, perhaps for the first time in their life, things can really change. I feel that a lot of parents are too lenient with their teen’s choices, and sometimes the law is needed to give them a good talking to.

By ValleyFiah — On Jun 23, 2011

Does a person put on probation as a juvenile have a negative criminal record as an adult? Does it show up when an employer does a background check?

By Georgesplane — On Jun 23, 2011

@fiorite- I would like to dispute your assumption that someone convicted of a crime is not honorable. Someone who leaves water out for an illegal immigrant sneaking across the border can be convicted of a crime and sentenced to informal probation in say California. In this case, the person was supplying water to another human being to prevent a death. It is considered a crime, but it is honorable to prevent the death of a person. This type of situation would be a good situation to put someone on an easy or informal probation. A more severe punishment would be a waste of tax dollars and would be counterproductive on solving any underlying issue.

By Babalaas — On Jun 23, 2011

@fiorite- As misleading as it sounds, community supervision is a blanket term for supervision after a crime that does not involve jail time or a fine. Community supervision can include furlough, probation, parole, informal probation, or any other type of supervision that involves a member of the community. Officers from the probation department are considered members of the community--this is why offenders see probation officers from their county, city, or town.

As the article stated, offenders on informal probation do not see a probation officer. These offenders are almost always low level offenders without any priors. They only see the judge because their offense does not warrant the use of tax dollars for a probation officer's supervision. You will usually find informal probation programs in states with high prison populations and an overloaded legal system.

By Fiorite — On Jun 23, 2011

Is informal probation the same as community supervision? I have never heard the term informal supervision, but I have heard about community supervision as a penalty for a DUI. Either way, neither punishment sounds very much like a "punishment". They both sound like they are based on the honor system. To me, this does not make sense since someone convicted of breaking the law is not very honorable.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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