Probation and Parole Through History

In August 1841, a Boston, Massachusetts shoemaker named John Augustus bailed the first person out of jail. The person was a “common drunkard”, married with kids. A “common drunkard” is “legally defined at the time as someone who had arrested for intoxication at least three times in a six-month period” ( Panzarella, R. (2002, December). Theory and Practice of Probation of Bail in the Report of John Augustus. Federal Probation, 66(3), 38.

Retrieved June 6, 2007, from Academic Search Premier Database).
John Augustus was known as the Godfather of Probation. It was his devotion to helping the unfortunate that began the first probations in the United States. Mr. Augustus had strict rules on the types of people he would bail out of trouble. At first he only bailed men out and then in July 1842 he bailed the first woman out of trouble and in October 1843 he bailed out his first set of children.

Augustus always checked out each person he was bailing out of trouble. If the men and women were not married with children and not repeat offenders, he would not bail them out. Children were the only group of people who he would bail out as first offenders. He had a strict rule that all probation was a family oriented arrangement and that all offenders had to be capable of working and supporting his or her family. Children were sent to school or supplied with some honest employment.
According to Kathy Waters (2002), John Augustus, “had a definite view that the object of the law is to reform criminals, and to prevent crime and not to punish maliciously, or form a spirit of revenge” (Waters, Kathy. (September 2002) Probation, Parole, and Community Corrections. Past, Present and Future. Are We Prepared to Go There? Retrieved on June 7, 2007 from In 1878, Massachusetts followed Augustus’s lead and formally established probation and provided for a paid staff of probationers.
On March 5, 1925 the National Probation Act was signed by President Calvin Coolidge. The Administration of federal probation was assigned to the Department of Justice under the Office of the Attorney General and placed under the direction of the Bureau of Prisons. In 1927 the first probation officers were appointed. There were three (3) in total. The position required that a person be high school graduates with at least 14 college credits and three years experience in social work. The age requirement was 21 through 54 with retirement age set at 70. By 1930 only five more probation officers were added. Probation and Parole has continued to grow since the 30s, more than 4.1 million people were on probation and 784,208 were on parole at the end of 2005. Probation and parole are integral to criminal and juvenile justice in the states.

There are two major areas in the trends that affect probation and parole. These are environmental trends and strategic trends. According to William Burrell,
“The environmental factors that have an impact on probation and parole include organizational structure, workload, resources and funding and legislative/political initiatives and support. The organizational structure of probation and parole is stable. Unlike the period of the late 1970s and early 1980s when parole came under attack and was abolished in 16 states, no large scale efforts are underway in terms of significantly altering the organizational structure of these community-based correctional agencies” (Trends in Probation and Parole in the States. Retrieved on June 7, 2007 from;/ccheadlines/docs/Trends_Probatin_Parole.pdf).

The workloads for probation and parole are increasing rapidly. The funding to support this increase is not there. Therefore the caseloads for officers are sometimes overwhelming. Probation and parole receive only a small portion of the Department of Corrections budget. This lack of funding can cause less than adequate representation for the probationer or parolee. Collaboration and partnerships, results driven management, re-emergence of rehabilitation, specialization, technology, and community justice are strategic trends in probation and parole.

Collaboration and partnerships – Probation and parole agencies realize that they cannot successfully do their jobs alone. They realize that they need expertise and assistance of others. Probation and parole officers have built good relationships with police officers, clerks of courts, judges, drug counselors, teachers, and employment specialist. These relationships help officers to do their jobs successfully and ensure that their charges have every opportunity for reform.

Results-Driven Management – Probation and Parole are no different than any other organization, they must demonstrate both what they are doing and what the results of this action are. Are they providing adequate supervision and what are the results of this supervision? Does it meet the standards of expectation or do some changes need to take affect?
Re-emergence of Rehabilitation – Probation and parole needs to make significant role redefinition and organizational changes to embrace a rehabilitative model. The large caseloads of probation officers will hinder the effectiveness of the rehabilitative model. Probation officers need the resources and funding to continue to help offenders becomes rehabilitated. The officers need to be able to monitor each and every one of his or her charges to effectively keep them on the right track.

Specialization – The number of “special needs” offenders have increased drastically over the years. There are more offenders who are drug addicts, mentally ill, sex offenders, drunk drivers, gang members, violent offenders and offenders will a combination of all the above. These offenders need special programs and supervision to help them succeed. The large case loads per officers make it difficult for the officers to provide these needs to all the offenders.

Technology – Advancement in technology has helped probation and parole with supervision of some offenders. The electronic monitoring device helps officers to supervisor offenders on house arrest. The hand-held breathe test machine helps to detect if a person has been drinking. There are always new technologies to help probation and parole agencies but again because of funding they are not always affordable to the agencies.

Community Justice – Community justice systems involve the victim and the community in the sentencing and sanctioning of the offender. The courts can decide the victim should receive some form of restitution. The offender could be sentenced to do community service such as picking-up litter on the side of highways or volunteering in community offices.

All of the trends show that improved performance of probation and parole agencies will lead to less crime and increased safety. Investing in increased capacity and capability will deliver effective probation and parole services which in return will provide a return in justice and community safety. This will also ensure a future for probation and parole in the criminal justice system.

Probation and parole have become popular with judges as part of sentencing of offenders. With this increase in popularity has come with an increase of caseloads for probation and parole officers. This has caused the effectiveness of probation and parole to decrease. The types of offenders have changed over the years and with this change the specialization of officers have fallen behind. There are several solutions a person can talk about for the probation and parole system. One solution is to either hire more officers or decrease the number of offenders who are placed on probation or parole. This decrease in offenders on probation and parole will put another burden on the prison system. The prison systems are overcrowded now and like the probation and parole agencies cannot easily handle this increase. Another solution is to create more community programs to place the offenders in, such as more affordable rehabilitation centers for alcohol, drug, or even sexual addicts. This increase would mean the government would have to find the money to build the facilities and staff such facilities. This definitely would be a good solution but there is no money for such a solution. Another solution could be as simple as redefining the roles of the probation officers on staff at the moment. Such as most organizations of certain departments that handle different aspects of their organization, probation and parole agencies could again try this option. If probation and parole could reorganize the caseloads for each officer and give each officer only certain type of offenders, this might help the officers to be able to organize programs for their offenders. For example, if a probation officer’s caseload only included alcohol offenders the officer could possibly set up group meetings for the alcoholics such as the AA groups. The officer could set up programs within their department for random testing of the offenders. It just seems that if each probation officer only had certain types of offenders it could help to increase the supervision of such offenders. This increase in supervision would cause a decrease in repeat offenders. However, again this is not always a possibility in the smaller departments. If there were more alcohol offenders than drug offenders then one officer would be caring most of the load which would definitely cause a decrease in effectiveness.

Probation and parole is still an effective means to help cut the cost to the community and government for housing of offenders in prison. Not only is it costly to house offenders in the prison system but not all offenses are serious enough to need this type of housing. A person who is convicted of their first Driving under the Influence charge or their first offense for any crime does not need to be house in the prison system. This is where probation and parole could prove effective in making sure the person does not become a repeat offender.

It is always better if the courts are able to give person probation for first and possibly even second offenses. It not only saves money but it could help to keep this person from being housed with hardened criminals, which could cause this person to become a repeat offender or possibly even commit worse crimes. This author feels that there are times when a person should have some jail time to serve just to give them an idea of what it could be like to be in prison but only due time in a local jail. Then this person could be placed on probation for a certain amount of time to make sure that he or she gets the help they need to not become repeat offenders.

Burrell, William D. Trends in Probation and Parole in the States. Retrieved on June 7, 2007 from;/ccheadlines/docs/Trends_Probatin_Parole.pdf
Panzarella, R. (2002, December). Theory and Practice of Probation on Bail in the Report of John Augustus. Federal Probation, 66(3), 38. Retrieved June 6, 2007, from Academic Search Premier Database.
Waters, Kathy. (September 2002) Probation, Parole, and Community Corrections. Past, Present and Future. Are We Prepared to Go There? Retrieved on June 7, 2007 from