(Latin: probare, to test)
A period of trial instituted in the United States since 1900, during which a prisoner is freed from confinement and allowed to resume his ordinary free place in society, but only on condition that any new offense or failure to observe rules established for his con duct will make him again subject to the punishment previously imposed upon him.
The purpose of punishment is, in part, to reform the prisoner and to secure in him an effective will not to repeat his offense.
When this purpose is secured, and society is safeguarded against further damage, a fine assessed against him, or a period of imprisonment (during which the state must pay at a rather high rate for his support and care} seem both unnecessary and cruel.
Hence the law now everywhere permits judges or boards of probation to allow a conditional remission of the punishment decreed for the offense of whicn the prisoner has been guilty.
The probationer thus restored to freedom is required for a given term to prove by good conduct that he is worthy of this favor; it is clear, of course, that only by this practical test can society determine whether or no the reformation of life which he promises will be effectively carried out.
The value of the probation system is generally beyond question.
Most first offenders against the law are sufficiently punished by the arrest, trial, and conviction, and need no further punishment to secure their good behavior in the future.
There are, however, many cases in which the probationer abuses the freedom accorded him, and returns to his previous life of crime.
The success of the system depends upon the prudence with which the judges make use of it, and upon the effectiveness of the supervision exercised by probation officers during the period of probation.
Statistics show that under favorable circumstances more than sixty per cent of those placed on probation have no further criminal record.
Another criticism is concerned with the basic philosophy of punishment.
In this view, punishment is ordained, not merely for the reformation of the offender, but equally for the protection of society by warning others against the offense, and for the reestablishment of a state of justice, by forcing the offender to suffer in punishment the equivalent of the damage, loss, and pain which he has caused in violating the right of others.
Admitting that a criminal is entirely reformed, punishment is not needed for his welfare, but remains important for these other two purposes.
In answer, prudent thinkers will admit the general principles involved in the criticism, but will insist that in practical cases a prudent judge will consider these elements as well as the reformation of the prisoner, and will admit to probation only those cases in which all the purposes of justice are sfeguarded.
New Catholic Dictionary