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Probation is the most common form of correctional punishment for criminal activity. It allows an offender to stay within the community, but under the supervision of a probation officer. Approximately 61 percent of convicted individuals are sentenced to probation. In 2002, there were 3,995,165 adults on probation in the United States.

A judge is never required by law to issue a sentence of probation; it is only given after all aspects of a crime have been considered. Sentencing laws demand that judges make specific determinations about each convicted defendant, such as if this person is a danger to the community. If not, and the judge believes the offender is sorry for his or her crime and will be a law abiding citizen in the future, probation is an appropriate sentence.

Once an offender receives probation, he or she is immediately assigned a probation officer. Conditions of probation Rich Crawford, North Dakota chief federal probation officer. Probation is the most common form of correctional punishment for criminal activity, allowing an offender to stay within the community under the supervision of a probation officer. (AP/Wide World Photos)

are set down by the judge in a contract the offender must agree to and sign. The contract lists the kind of behavior (both prohibited and required) the offender must follow during the probation period. Examples of probationary conditions include not owning or possessing a firearm or drinking alcoholic beverages; meeting with the probation officers at assigned times; attending counseling or drug therapy sessions; reporting any changes of address or in living arrangements; and submitting to regular drug testing. Failing to follow the conditions of probation or committing another crime can result in its withdrawal and the offender being sent to jail or prison.

The advantages of a probation sentence over incarceration include allowing the offender to work in the community, earn money to support his or her family, and to have the support of friends and family while attending counseling sessions. Probation costs the state only a fraction of what a jail or prison term costs. Offenders are also spared exposure to the harshness of prison life and the hardened criminals who live there.

Disadvantages of probation include the fear of community residents who believe convicted criminals should not be back on the street because they might commit other crimes. Another concern is how inconsistent probation sentences and probation officers can be in their treatment of offenders. Some counties may send offenders to jail for the same crime where others are given probation. Similarly, probation officers may be very strict in one area and very lax in another. While one officer might report the failure to attend a therapy session as a probation violation, another might overlook the absence.

Famous Prisons

Leavenworth Federal Penitentiary is the largest maximum-security prison in the United States. Located fifteen miles north of Kansas City in Leavenworth, Kansas, it began accepting inmates in 1903. Leavenworth was the first federal penitentiary. During its century of use, Leavenworth has housed such famous outlaws as "Machine Gun" Kelly and Robert F. Stroud, who later became known as the "Bird Man of Alcatraz" where he was later moved.

Alcatraz, meaning pelican, is located on an island in San Francisco Bay. It was the first permanent U.S. Army military fort on the West Coast beginning in the early 1850s, then became a military prison in the early 1860s. In 1933 and 1934 it was transformed into a prison for the nation's most dangerous criminals. Alcatraz, also known as the Rock, was essentially escape-proof because it was surrounded by shark-infested waters. Alcatraz operated until 1963 when it was closed. In 2000 it became part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area and a major tourist attraction.

San Quentin State Prison, located in Marin County, California, just north of San Francisco, is California's oldest prison. Pris-oners finished building San Quentin in 1854. They were housed offshore on a boat while constructing the prison. In 1893 it became California's execution site. Hanging was the standard means for execution until 1938 when the gas chamber came into use. Although a maximum security prison for over one hundred years, by 2000 San Quentin was serving as a medium security facility for six thousand inmates.

Sing Sing Correctional Facility is a state prison located in Ossining, New York, and took its name from that village. Built in 1825, Sing Sing became known for executing death row prisoners by electrocution. Between 1914 and 1971 all of the state of New York's executions took place in the prison's electric chair. Sing Sing remained a maximum security facility for male offenders.

Attica Correctional Facility, a state prison located in Attica, New York, has held many of New York's worst criminals since it opened in 1933. It is best known for a bloody prison riot in 1971 that resulted in forty-two deaths—thirty-one inmates and eleven prison guards. It is the only U.S. prison that uses a tear gas system piped throughout the facility to quiet conflicts. Attica holds many criminals who have been sentenced to lengthy prison terms—often twenty-five years to life—for committing murder.

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Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationCrime and Criminal LawCorrections - Probation, Famous Prisons, Incarceration, Boot Camp Prisons, New Treatment: Prisoners And Animals