What Is Unsupervised Probation?

By Mike Broemmel ; Updated June 15, 2017
Open law book with wooden judges gavel on table in

An individual who has no significant criminal record and who has been convicted of a more minor offense qualifies for unsupervised probation in many instances. Short of diversion or a suspended sentence, unsupervised probation is the least significant punishment that a court can order in a criminal case.

Barring committing a new crime or failing to comply with any conditions of probation, a defendant can make it through a term of unsupervised probation with very little to no contact with the court or the probation office.


Probation in the United States initially was utilized in Boston in 1841. The first statewide probation system was developed in Massachusetts in 1880. Forty years later, over 20 states in the U.S. began using probation systems in regard to criminal defendants.

By 1951 every state in the Union (as well as the federal government) utilized probation in criminal cases. Each state and the federal government rely on different levels when it comes to probation. The least severe and intrusive type of probation is unsupervised probation. Supervised probation is a midlevel form of the sentence, while intensive probation is the most restrictive.


The basic function of unsupervised probation is to ensure that any penalties, educational or counseling requirements ordered by a court in a criminal case are completed. For example, oftentimes a term of supervised probation is accompanied by a requirement for the defendant to do community service, participate in some sort of educational programming or take part in counseling. Additionally, an individual on unsupervised probation is required not to breach the conditions of the probationary term not break the law while on probation.

Although a person on unsupervised probation is not obliged to meet with a probation officer during the term, there is some general oversight by the probation office from time to time to ensure that the basic requirements of the probation order are being met by the defendant.

Time Frame

A term of unsupervised probation normally is not very long in duration. Typically unsupervised probation extends for a period of six months to one year. However, under applicable law, it is possible in some cases and with certain charges for a term of unsupervised probation to extend beyond a one-year period.


If a person on unsupervised probation fails to satisfy the terms and conditions of the probation order or commits a new crime, that individual can face the prospect of having his unsupervised probation revoked. In most instances, a probation office and companion criminal justice system take a graduated approach to revocation. By this it is meant that if the infraction is not too significant, a defendant may end up on supervised probation for the duration of his sentence.

If the offender continues to have problems satisfying the conditions of probation, he will face stiffer sanctions. In the end, it is possible for a person to end up incarcerated if he continues to fail to comply with a probation order.


Although in and of itself, unsupervised probation is not a particularly serious sentence, if a defendant finds herself facing a revocation of unsupervised probation, seeking legal advice and representation is a wise course to take. The reality is that if a probation officer elects to revoke unsupervised probation, the consequences can be serious and there is always at least some risk of incarceration.

About the Author

Mike Broemmel began writing in 1982. He is an author/lecturer with two novels on the market internationally, "The Shadow Cast" and "The Miller Moth." Broemmel served on the staff of the White House Office of Media Relations. He holds a Bachelor of Arts in journalism and political science from Benedictine College and a Juris Doctorate from Washburn University. He also attended Brunel University, London.