Probation & Parole FAQs

Welcome to our collection of frequently asked questions specifically for Probation and Parole.

1. What percent of state parole discharges were successful?

46 percent of parolees discharged in 2004 had successfully completed their term of supervision in the community while 60 percent of the more than 2.2 million adults discharged from probation in 2004 had successfully met the conditions of their supervision. From 1995 to 2004, the success rates for parolees were consistently lower than the success rates for probationers.

The number of adults under state parole supervision at the end of 2004 totaled 765,355 and had increased 2.7% from 2003. By yearend 2004, there were over 4 million adults under probation supervision which represented the smallest annual growth rate (0.2%) since the Bureau of Justice Statistics began its survey in 1979.

The following quote is taken from the 2004 Parole Board Survey conducted by the Association of Paroling Authorities International (APAI):

The 50 state boards have 30 that still have almost full discretion or operate with some limits. Sixteen state parole boards either have been abolished or are operating under what one might call a sun-down provision, in that they have discretion over a small or diminishing parole-eligible population. Many of these boards that have little to no releasing authority over the majority of the population still have responsibility for other parole functions such as the following: reviewing release plans, setting parole conditions, approving good time, and handling revocations for conditional released parolees.

The complete Parole Board Survey may be found at this page:

Mandatory releases from prison as a result of a sentencing statute or good-time provision comprised 52% of those entering parole in 2004, up from 45% in 1995. As a percentage of all releases from State prison, discretionary releases by a parole board steadily declined from 55% in 1980 to 22% in 2003.

The largest percentage of parolees had been convicted of a drug offense (38%), followed by a property offense (26%) and a violent offense (24%).

In 2004, probationers continued to account for the majority of all persons under correctional supervision. For the first time since data collection began in 1979, probationers convicted of a misdemeanor (50%) accounted for a larger percentage of the population than probationers convicted of a felony (49%).

The largest percentage of the probation population was convicted of a drug law violation (26%0, followed by a DWI (15%) and larceny/theft (12%).

Bureau of Justice Statistics
Bureau of Justice Statistics Bulletin - Probation and Parole in the United States, 2004.

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2. What are the educational requirements for probation and parole officers?

The minimum educational requirements for adult and juvenile probation and parole officers vary from state to state. The vast majority of states require a minimum of a bachelors degree. There are states that prefer that candidates have some level of previous related experience or knowledge of the job. A few states will consider candidates with a minimum of a high school education and experience.

American Corrections Association

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3. What is the number of adults on probation and parole?

Reports the number of persons on probation and parole, by State, at yearend 2004 and compares the totals with yearend 1995 and 2000. Access full text at:

Bureau of Justice Statistics
Probation and Parole in the United States, 2004 (10 pp.) (NCJ 210676)

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4. What is the number of juveniles on probation and parole?

In 1996, juvenile courts in the United States processed nearly 1.8 million delinquency cases. This number represented a 3% increase over the 1995 caseload and 49% increase over the number of cases handled in 1987. More than half (56%) were handled formally (that is, a petition was filed requesting an adjudicatory or waiver hearing). Of the cases that were petitioned, 58% were adjudicated delinquent and 1% were judicially waived to criminal (adult) court. Of all delinquency cases adjudicated in juvenile court in 1996, 28% resulted in residential placement and 54% were placed on the probation caseload.

Bureau of Justice Statistics
Stahl, A.L. (1999). Offenders in Juvenile Court, 1996. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Dept. of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics.

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5. What are the characteristics of jail inmates?

This describes the characteristics of jail inmates in 2002, including offenses, conviction status, criminal histories, sentences, time served, drug and alcohol use and treatment, and family background.

Bureau of Justice Statistics
"Profile of Jail Inmates, 2002" (12 pp.) (NCJ 201932),

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6. What is probation?

Probation is a court-order through which an offender is placed under the control, supervision and care of a probation field staff member in lieu of imprisonment, so long as the probationer meets certain standards of conduct.

You may also view APPA’s position statement on probation.

American Probation and Parole Association Position Statement on Probation

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7. Who should be placed on probation?

The easy answer to who should be placed on probation is that most non-violent offenders are good candidates for probation. However, there are no easy answers. Many jurisdictions have a variety of offenders on probation (e.g., property offenders, domestic abusers, felony and misdemeanor offenders, and sex offenders). It all boils down to what is the capacity of the individual jurisdiction, what will the community tolerate, state statutes, resource availability, etc. How well someone does on probation depends on how well the offenders needs are assessed, how well they are supervised and what resources the agency has available to assist in their supervision and rehabilitation. The motivation of the offender is also a factor that has to be considered.

Many different types of offenders do quite well on probation depending on your jurisdiction’s ability determine their risk and need factors and your ability to provide a balance of supervision, intervention and treatment based on the results of your assessment. If a department has credible offender programming (e.g., cognitive/behavioral interventions, drug treatment, sex offender treatment, community involvement, community-based supervision, probation and police partnerships, and a judge who takes interest in each case) coupled with a variety of intermediate sanctions and incentives, they have a better chance of having a wide variety of offenders on probation and realizing success.

Carl Wicklund
personal communication

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8. Is there a time after which probation supervision loses its effectiveness?

The answer to this question depends on what the agency/office wants probation to accomplish in each case. The length of a probation sentence should be affected by the outcome that is being sought (e.g., What do you want the offender to accomplish? What will the community tolerate?). Also, the length of time someone is sentenced to probation is not necessarily the length of time someone should serve on probation. Just because someone receives a ten-year sentence to probation doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be discharged after three years if they have accomplished all of what was expected of them. Therefore, in appropriate cases, early discharge should be considered and used as an incentive to motivate the offender. Probation can become ineffective the first day someone is on probation if there is not a credible and balanced system of supervision, intervention and treatment. It can also become ineffective if someone has completed all of their conditions and remaining on probation prevents them from moving on with a normal life. Again, a validated and credible risk and needs assessment can help with this determination.

Carl Wicklund
personal communication

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9. Is there an optimal length of probation?

No. However, research would suggest that low risk offenders are not going to benefit from a lengthy term of probation. In fact, low risk offenders are more likely to recidivate with too much correctional intervention rather then no intervention. In most cases, the shorter time a low risk offender is on probation, the better. When the offender completes the conditions of probation, discharge can be considered. There is no optimal length of probation for high-risk offenders. The length of the probation term depends on what an officer wants to accomplish and what resources the agency has in place to assist the offender in working toward his/her goals. Community tolerance and public safety factors also have to be considered when determining the length of the probation term. Obviously, if there is a glut of good services the term of probation can be shortened for offenders who successfully complete their court ordered conditions and whose risk and needs assessment indicates that they have shown appreciable change.

It should be reiterated that it isn’t how long someone is placed on probation that is the concern, but when they are released from probation that needs to be considered. It is recommended that judges regularly review a probationer’s progress with the probation officer and the probationer to determine when or if discharge from probation is viable. This is a good way of demonstrating accountability to the offender and it also serves as a way for the court to support positive progress.

Carl Wicklund
personal communication

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10. What is parole?

Parole refers to the term of supervision that occurs once offenders are conditionally released to the community after serving a prison term. Parolees are subject to being returned to jail or prison for rule violations or other offenses.

You may also view APPA’s position statement on parole.

American Probation and Parole Association
Position Statement on Parole

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11. Which states have determinate sentencing?

Approximately sixteen states' parole boards have either had the parole board abolished or have had their parole power greatly diminished.

Association of Paroling Authorities
International website,

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12. What is restorative justice?

Restorative justice is a philosophy that shifts the focus of the justice process from being focused on the offender to resolving the problem and restoring the harm created by the offender’s actions. Restorative justice has three primary stakeholders: the victim, the offender, and the community. The state gives up its central role in dispensing justice and assumes the function of facilitating reparation of the harm done to the victim and the community. The harm caused the victim and community is assessed by the parties involved, and the offender is accountable for restoring the victim and community, as much as possible, to their pre-offense condition.

The three fundamental concepts that define the essence of a restorative justice approach are:

  • Engage Victims, Community and Offender
  • Focus on Harm
  • Offender Obligation, Accountability, Reintegration

Engage Victims, Community and Offender – A restorative justice response proposes the victim will have the option of being included in determining how the criminal behavior is addressed. This does not give carte blanche to a victim to decide on a course of retribution for the offender without protection of the offender’s due process rights. It does mean that victims play an active role, if they choose to, from the beginning to the conclusion of the process.

Victim impact statements and victim-offender mediation approaches are examples of including victims in a restorative justice system. These approaches may include many people from the community interacting with the offender and the justice system to identify the aftermath of the crime and search for acceptable ways of addressing it.

In a truly restorative justice context, communities would provide leadership to the entire process. However, involving communities in restorative justice strategies is very difficult, in part because this practice has not been undertaken routinely in the recent past. People often grapple with the concept of community without fully resolving them. Involving citizens in creative problem-solving and resource development is a vital part of a restorative justice approach.

Focus on Harm – Focusing on the harm caused by offenses to victims and communities necessitates a shift in the response to crime. Emphasis is placed on natural and logical consequences of his or her criminal behavior. For example, if the victim was injured, an offender might have to pay for medical costs or do tasks the victim cannot perform while healing from the injuries.

Offender Obligation, Accountability, Reintegration – Active participation of offenders in the justice process also is a feature. Restorative justice involves the offender in active encounters with victims and community members. Offenders must hear about the consequences of their behavior from their victims and they must respond to victims’ and community members’ questions about the cause of the behavior. They are also engaged is designing appropriate ways of restoring victims and the community, as much as possible, to their condition before the crime occurred.

Accountability literally means to answer to, explain something, or to give an account. The offender has responsibility for reaching a conclusion about what the harm is, owning it, and taking action to repair it. Accountability is victim-focused rather than offender-focused. It involves the development of empathy for victims and an understanding of the harm done. The primary obligation is to restore the victim, not change the offender.

Reintegration of the offender is an objective of offender rehabilitation and often is an outcome of the restorative justice process, although it is not the primary intent of restorative justice. By assuming and carrying out tasks to restore victims and the community, offenders may learn valuable skills and form supportive associations that will lead to more pro-social lifestyles.

Anne Crowe
Crowe, A. (1998). Restorative Justice and Offender Rehabilitation: A Meeting of the Minds. Perspectives, 22(3), 28-40.

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13. What is community justice?

Community justice requires focusing on community partnerships to meet the needs of victims and citizens, hold offenders accountable, and to provide prevention programs for a safe community. For community justice initiatives to be effective, there must be a system of open and active communication, cooperation and collaboration.

Community justice relies on active citizen involvement rather than exclusive management of the system by bureaucracies. At the individual case level, this provides the opportunity for victim-offender mediation, increased attention to victim restitution, development of offenders’ pro-social skills, and changes in offender thinking and behavior.

At the community level, it requires increased responsibility by all citizens for providing the services and mechanisms needed for community safety and satisfaction.

At the criminal and juvenile justice system level, a community justice model means including citizens and victims in the policy development and practice implementation.

Although there are no universally accepted definitions of community justice, there are some essential elements that are expressed in the following principles:

  • The community (including individual victims and offenders) is the ultimate customer, as well as a partner of the justice system.
  • Partnerships for action, among justice components and citizens, strive for community safety and well being.
  • The community is the preferred source of problem solving as its citizens work to prevent victimization, provide conflict resolution, and maintain peace.

Crime is confronted by addressing social disorder, criminal activities and behavior, and by holding offenders accountable to victims and the community.

Buy Community Justice Concepts and Strategies

American Probation and Parole Association
Community Justice Concepts and Strategies: Executive Summary. Lexington, KY.

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14. What is the average or recommended caseload size?

The issue of the ideal size for a probation or parole caseload has been discussed for as long as there have been professionals in the field. To the casual observer, it seems to be a rather straightforward question. Why can’t a definitive answer be given to the question of how many offenders a caseload officer should carry?

As with so many things, it is not so simple. Not every offender needs the same type or amount of supervision. To be effective and efficient, there must be varying amounts of supervision provided to offenders. The more serious or higher priority cases are assigned a greater level of supervision, meaning that the officer will be expected to have more frequent contact with that offender. Lower priority cases demand less time of the caseload officer.

A significant proportion of agencies have adopted classification and case management systems for their supervision operations. The Model System incorporates classification with a method of accounting for cases known as the "workload" model. The workload model is based on differentiation among cases. Under the workload approach time factors into the weight that a case receives in assigning it to an officer and for accounting for its contribution to the officer’s total responsibilities. For example, a case with a high priority would require 4 hours per month equaling 30 as a total caseload. Medium priority would require 2 hours per month equaling 60 as a total caseload. Low priority would require 1 hour per month equaling a total caseload of 120. This is based upon an officer having 120 hours per month to supervise offenders. The balance of the hours counting for leave, collateral duties, etc.

It is important for work to be assessed and recorded in a manner that reflects the priorities of the agency. If probation and parole agencies are adopting case management strategies which are based on differentiation of case supervision, then the method for assigning and accounting for those cases must accommodate that approach. It does not make sense to count every case as equal in assigning and accounting for total caseload if the basic supervision strategy is to purposely supervise cases differentially. The accounting scheme must also count cases differentially.

The workload concept does that, and thus is a more accurate and fair way to describe officer caseloads. It also makes it more difficult to define an ideal caseload in numbers.

The process of developing a workload model for a given supervision agency is fairly straightforward, and has been well refined. The difficulty comes in the diversity and pluralistic nature of the probation and parole field. The policies and procedures of probation and parole agencies across the U.S. varies so that there is not enough consistency of practice to support national workload standards.

American Probation and Parole Association
Issue Paper on Caseload Standards

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15. What is the history of probation?

Significant Events in the Development of U.S. Probation

  • 1841 – John Augustus introduces probation in the U.S. in Boston.
  • 1878 - Massachusetts is first state to formally adopt probation for juveniles.
  • 1878-1938 – 37 states, the District of Columbia, and the federal government passed juvenile and adult probation laws.
  • 1927 – All but Wyoming have juvenile probation laws.
  • 1954 – All states have juvenile probation laws.
  • 1956 – All states have adult probation laws (Mississippi becomes the last state to pass authorizing legislation).
  • 1973 – National Advisory Commission on Criminal Justice Standards and Goals endorses more extensive use of probation.
  • 1974 – Martinson’s widely publicized research purportedly proving that probation does not work.
  • 1975 – U.S. Department of Justice conducts the first census of U.S. Probationers.
  • 1976 – U.S. Comptroller General’s study of U.S. probation concludes it is a "system in crisis" due to inadequate funding.
  • 1982 – Georgia’s Intensive Supervision Probation (ISP) Programs claims to reduce recidivism and costs.
  • 1983 – Electronic monitoring of offenders begins in New Mexico, followed by larger experiment in Florida.
  • 1985 – RAND releases study of felony probationers, showing high failure rates. Replications follow, showing probation services and effectiveness vary widely across the nation.
  • 1989 – Government Accounting Office survey shows all 50 states have adopted intensive probation and other intermediate sanction programs.
  • 1991 – U.S. Department of Justice funds nationwide intensive supervision demonstration and evaluation.
  • 1993 – Program evaluations show probation without adequate surveillance and treatment is ineffective, but appropriate programs reduce recidivism.

Petersillia, J.
Probation in the United States Part II. Perspectives, 22 (3), 42-49.

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