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April 16, 2012

History, incorporation of probation explained by DWU professor

MITCHELL – Judicial and correctional practices have not always been what they are today – they have evolved over hundreds of years.

The idea of probation is not a new one, but its official incorporation into society is, in comparison to the courts system, still in its infancy.

Jesse Weins, assistant professor of criminal justice at Dakota Wesleyan University, will have an essay, “Probation and Judicial Reprieve,” published in the “Encyclopedia of Community Corrections” this May.

The “Encyclopedia of Community Corrections” is a one-volume book which attempts to compile 40 years of community correction program materials and resources.

Weins describes the history and usage of probation, and how it was derived from judicial reprieve – which became practiced in America and known as “suspended sentences” by the 1800s.

“Judges took it upon themselves to temper the harsh punishments required by law.  The legal permissibility of such raw judicial power would be called into question later, but all of these practices foreshadowed the rising correctional shift towards individualized justice that would take hold for the next one hundred years,” states Weins.

Modern “probation” came into effect in the mid-1800s under the influence of John Augustus.

“Augustus believed that if such persons could have their sentences temporarily suspended, with his assistance they could reform themselves and thereafter convince the judge that their sentences should be suspended permanently. Thus, he began ‘bailing’ offenders, i.e., posting the recognizance bond for those he believed could be reformed. After three weeks, Augustus brought the persons back to court to report on their progress, to the general approval of judges.”

This notion of “probation,” and what then was to become a probation officer, was introduced and made legal in Boston in 1878. The city appointed one probation officer. The state of Massachusetts accepted the framework by 1890, and soon other states followed suit. At this time probation was not an actual “sentence” a court could grant, though courts continued to employ it. In 1897, Missouri passed a law making it an authorized sentence and Vermont, Minnesota, Rhode Island, New Jersey and Illinois followed.

“The advent of the juvenile court system spurred a rise in the use of probation. By 1925 all states authorized probation at least for juveniles, though many localities went without, since most legislation did not fund the positions. It took until the 1950s and ’60s for all states to permit probation for adults,” Weins said.


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Last updated: 4/16/12