The purpose of probation is to provide low-risk offenders the opportunity to pay their dues to society in lieu of incarceration. Probation often is granted after the judge imposes a term of imprisonment. That term is then suspended for the duration of the probation period. If an offender fails to comply with the conditions in the agreement, the judge may revoke the term of probation and impose the original sentence.
While on probation, the offender can maintain employment and continue to be a contributing member of society. His life is not interrupted, which provides stability.
Incarceration can cost taxpayers hundreds of dollars a day per offender, whereas probation only costs a few dollars per day. Those on probation also contribute to the cost of their supervision by paying monthly fees in addition to fines or restitution.
Offenders on probation are evaluated and may be required to participate in rehabilitation. Treatment professionals are able to guide an offender as challenges arise, teaching him how to cope with daily life.
Higher-risk offenders are monitored more closely than those of a lesser risk, protecting society from new offenses. For example, these inviduals have more face-to-face contact with the probation officer, and many have a curfew or drug testing. Lower-risk offenders may report to the probation officer once a month.
Some first-time offenders who complete probation successfully may have their criminal record expunged. Usually, this is applicable only to first-time offenders who participate in a special program where the charges are dismissed upon successful completion of probation. Still, the offender will have to file a motion to expunge with the court, and each state differs in how these types of cases are handled.