Do we need probation reform?

Probation is one of the original alternative sentences, of course. But what happens when its demands—perhaps due to the judge in charge of a case—are too heavy-handed? How does a judge maintain appropriate punishment, determine if punishment is necessary at all, and take into account the potential public safety danger of the people involved?

If someone qualifies for straight probation and has no prior record, how strict should the rules be? Some wonder if they should be on probation at all. There is so much to consider, including the fees people under probation must pay.

A well-written New York Times piece from Sunday tackles some of these issues; it’s about a woman arrested for drunken driving in Baltimore who agreed to go on probation in order to avoid getting a conviction on her record. She ended up losing two jobs and spending a month in jail because the demands on her probation were too intense.

The idea of jailing people while they wait for trial or to see a judge is also addressed. This quote in the piece from Edward Latessa, director of the School of Criminal Justice at the University of Cincinnati, sums up what it’s like for people who are jailed and can’t afford bail, how this separation from their current lives can negatively affect their futures.

“If I took you and locked you up for 30 days, what would happen?” he said. “You’d lose your job, you might lose your apartment, you end up with a criminal record. I don’t help you — I give you new risk factors.”

This is why pre-trial services and/or bail reform can play important roles for many people. Yes, people get sanctioned for their actions, but at the same time, the chance to preserve the lives they’ve built is enhanced.

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