Updated: May 20
If you’re on our site or have taken one of our programs, chances are you’ve had a run-in with law enforcement and been given the benefit of probation in one form or another. When I say “benefit,” I mean that it is truly an opportunity for you to traverse the criminal justice system with minor inconveniences, learn some basics of how our society functions, and take time to recognize that the judicial officers are there to support you, not the other way around. Having exposure to this benefit, whether you like it or not, can be the perfect saving grace.
One day you are working a full time job, paying down debt, enjoying time with friends and family, and finishing up school. The next day all of this and more goes away. Without this alternative to incarceration, you could have a totally disrupted life. Prolonged jail time interrupts these activities, creating unnecessary complications for you and those you love.
Probation, on the other hand, allows you to stay in your community and at your job. You can fulfill your sentence without seriously disturbing your personal and work life. Even if you have to follow strict guidelines to remain compliant, your community has provided you with stability, supportive supervision, rehabilitation, and sometimes a chance at a clean slate. You should understand that the goal of probation is to set conditions you can comply with to prevent you from being imprisoned. I am sure you will agree that probation is the preferable alternative to going to jail.
In this period of supervision, if you are willing to engage with the process, you are also presented with the chance to discover how your community operates and how you fit into the grand scheme of things. This involves taking time to understand what rights you have and, in turn, what responsibilities you have to the community:
U.S. Citizen Rights
Freedom to express yourself.
Freedom to worship as you wish.
Right to a prompt, fair trial by jury.
Right to vote in elections for public officials.
Right to apply for federal employment requiring U.S. citizenship.
Right to run for elected office.
Freedom to pursue “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
U.S. Citizen Responsibilities
Support and defend the Constitution.
Stay informed of the issues affecting your community.
Participate in the democratic process.
Respect and obey federal, state, and local laws.
Respect the rights, beliefs, and opinions of others.
Participate in your local community.
Pay income and other taxes honestly, and on time, to federal, state, and local authorities.
Serve on a jury when called upon.
Defend the country if needed.
Participating in your community doesn’t mean you have to become a politician or are forced to understand every issue. What it does mean though, is that you try to at least know the rules of the game. Think of your community like a football game. Without first understanding the Offside Penalty in football, how will you be able to play the game properly, score a touchdown, or even win the game? You will constantly have 5 yard penalties pushing you back! So, if you want to navigate the world successfully, without getting in trouble legally, know your rights and responsibilities.
Both the judges and probation officers are active members of your community who are there to facilitate compliance with your probation conditions. If you demonstrate a good attitude and are genuinely open to learning how to make better decisions, they will often bend over backwards to assist you. Believe it or not, successfully releasing you back into the community as an active, engaged citizen is one of their top priorities. Rarely will a judge revoke probation for someone who is genuinely remorseful for their circumstances and have given their very best effort to meet the conditions of probation.
Think back to when your parents, grandparents, or someone you look up to imparted you with one of the most important pieces of advice: Put yourself in someone else’s shoes for a bit. Now, use this advice to step into the shoes of your probation officer and a judge. Day in, day out, both your probation officer and judges constantly interact with offenders who are disrespectful to them and the system, see people who openly lie to them, and don’t take responsibility for their actions. For you to be successful, you must distinguish yourself from those folks not committed to making probation work which will contribute to making the process a little smoother for everyone involved.
Here are a few key important takeaways to help ensure probation success:
-Know what is expected during the probation period and after
-Take advantage of the knowledge and skills you gain through the process
-Give thought to reviewing your rights and responsibilities as a U.S. Citizen
-Be active in asking your probation officer and judge for resources to help you succeed
-Tackle the problems that led to probation and commit to not repeating the same mistakes
-Surround yourself with supportive friends and family to help keep you accountable