While doing the initial interviews of clients here at the Athens Clarke County Public Defenders Office, I have noticed that a lot of clients come in with a criminal history where most of the dispositions of their case's are given years of probation instead of jail or prison time. I began to wonder if that was common for all offenders or if there was a requirement for the people who get put on probation. So I decided to do more research on the topic. Probation is the most common sentencing method in the United States. The American Correctional Association defines probation as, "A court-ordered dispositional alternative through which an adjudicated offender is placed under the control, supervision and care of a probation staff member in lieu of imprisonment, so long as the probationer meets certain standards of contact" (Petersilia, 1997, p. 149). Probation first began in the year of 1841 (Petersilia, 1997). John Augustus, a Boston bootmaker, first set bail for a man charged with being a drunk and had some experience working with alcoholics (Petersilia, 1997). When the disposition of the man's case was about to be made Augustus asked the judge to defer sentencing and release the man to him (Petersilia, 1997). Once the probationary period was over the offender convinced the judge he was reformed and received a fine (Petersilia, 1997). The idea of probation was created. .
There are many factors that are considered when deciding if an offender receives probation or not. These factors are usually presented in a document that probation creates called pre-sentence investigation (PSI). This type of report is to inform the court of the offenders crime they have committed and its seriousness, the defendant's risk, the defendant's circumstances, a summary of the legally permissible sentencing options, and a recommendation for or against prison (Petersilia,1997). If either prison or probation is recommended the sentencing length and conditions are also given (Petersilia, 1997).