However, for any society to have a working probation program, certain standards must be established within its judicial system. Early criminology scholars have listed said standards and they still ring true today.
According to John Lewis Gillin, the state must have the following prerequisites before implementing probation, and they are: 1) Accurate and scientific methods of identifying offenders, such as fingerprinting, criminal records, and crime labs; 2) A police force trained to respond towards the philosophy of restorative justice; 3) Appropriate places of detention; 4) An effective system of bail bonds that will lessen the necessity of jail detention; 5) Reformation of the judiciary system that ensures a speedy and efficient trial and; 6) Proper institutions and infrastructures that will ensure that probations and offenders will be properly dealt with and receive individualized treatments to allow them to reintegrate successfully back into society (Gillin, 1926, p. 853).
Yet every crime is different, and in taking the route of reformative justice means that each form of punishment must be individualized to ensure its efficacy on each offender. To ensure that efficacy, standards should also be set and followed by those in the judicial system. Unfortunately, the prerequisites that should be established in each state that were mentioned earlier and the standards in carrying out probations are not fixed and vary from state to state. In the United States, probation is not a right but the prerogative of the judge. Different laws in different states also complicate matters by having removing the option of probation entirely on certain misdemeanor offenses.
There is also the problem of the lack of institutions such as hospitals and schools that are specifically aimed to deal with individuals whose ignorance or are victims to negative influences led them to commit offenses. Currently, there are neither set standards nor specific prerequisites for states to have these institutions in place before implementing probation, and whether these prerequisites will be integrated within the system remains to be seen. Another crucial point in the success of probation lies in the proper training of qualified individuals as probation officers. The recommended number of cases to every probation officer (or “counselor” for juvenile offenders’ cases) is 50 cases for every officer. However, this number is not always followed due to the overwhelming number of probation cases vis-a-vis the number of probation officers available.
While the prescribed timeframe for probationary period spans from six months to a year, the sheer number of cases means that any probationary officer at any time may be handling more than the prescribed number of cases than they should; and the more the number of cases, the less chances of applying an individualized method effectively to each of the probation officer’s client. As for the standards of the probation officers themselves, the National Probation and Parole Associate cite the following: A BA or equivalent, at least a year’s worth of paid fulltime experience under competent supervision in an approved social agency and the possession of good character and sound judgment (Roucek, 1958, p. 279). However, it’s quite clear that it needs more than those general qualities to become an effective probation officer. For one thing, probation officers need to cultivate and encourage dynamic interaction between offender and probation officer.
They must be prepared to deal with varying backgrounds, psychological problems and other mental problems of their clients. While they are expected to guide their clients into a healthier and more useful lifestyle, they are expected not to do everything for them, nor to coddle them. Being a probation officer is a careful balance between authority figure, counselor and at times, friend. One must not mishandle authority as not to ruin the starting point of any probation officer and their client—one of hostility or unfriendliness. At the same time this authority can be used to make rewards for good behavior much more effective if they have regained the trust and respect of their client.
It is a probation officer’s failure if they do not inculcate and show a genuine interest and concern for their clients, and disinterested and perfunctory checkups result into an unchanged attitude for the offender. An ineffective probation officer also casts a bad light on the probation process as it may convince taxpayers and upstanding citizens to think that, based on the unchanged attitudes of the offender, that probation in and of itself have no merit whatsoever. Less public support means less support in general for the probation system, and less support for the probation system means less resources laid aside for the system. In a sense, the crucial—and the most meaningful—phase of the probation period is the participation and relationship of the offender and the probation officer.