Shock probation is probation which is offered after a prisoner has served a part of his or her sentence, usually around three to six months. The idea behind it is that the early stages of an incarceration are often the most difficult, and that they may startle a prisoner into good behavior once released. Shock probation is believed to reduce recidivism rates because it arranges for a prisoner release while a prisoner is still in shock from immersion into the penal system, in contrast with a prisoner who is released after several years who may have adjusted to the system and even picked up traits which may contribute to recidivism.
In shock probation, someone is sentenced to prison and starts serving the sentence. After three to six months, the judge resentences the prisoner to probation, and the prisoner is released under supervision. It is usually considered when a prisoner is a first time offender and a judge believes, given the circumstances of the case, that the prisoner has a chance at reform which may be enhanced by being released.
This term is sometimes used interchangeably with “split sentence,” but the two concepts are different. In a split sentence, at the time of the initial sentencing hearing the judge declares that the convicted person will be sent to prison and then released on probation after a certain amount of time. While the effect, a brief stay in prison followed by probation, is the same, split sentencing and shock probation differ because one is prearranged and the other is offered later.
In addition to potentially reducing recidivism, shock probation also addresses prison overcrowding, a common problem in many regions of the world. By removing prisoners, judges free up room in prisons. Overcrowding is dangerous both for prisoners and prison personnel, and it itself can also contribute to the development of recidivism because low-risk prisoners may end up in close and prolonged contact with hardened criminals.
Shock probation is a privilege, not a right, and it is at the discretion of the judge. Judges began quietly using this option in the 1960s, and it grew as an approach to criminal justice in the 1970s. If a prisoner is potentially eligible for shock probation under the law, his or her lawyer will discuss the matter and provide more information about how the terms of the probation will work and whether or not the judge is likely to offer it as an option.