What Is Probation? - Definition, Rules & Types

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  • 0:03 Definition
  • 1:04 Rules
  • 2:19 Types
  • 3:27 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jessica Schubert

Jessica is a practicing attorney and has taught law and has a J.D. and LL.M.

Learn what constitutes probation in this lesson. First, review the definition of probation and then examine its rules. Finally, analyze the different types of probation and review the features of each one.


Imagine that Albert has committed a burglary, is caught by the police, and is sentenced to a 10-year jail term. Albert serves eight years of the prison term. Afterwards, the judge decides to grant probation to Albert. Albert signs a release agreement, where Albert agrees to remain in a certain region, provide for his children (who are still minors), and obtain a job. Albert also agrees not to associate with any other offenders.

Probation is a type of criminal sentence that is served by an offender instead of a jail sentence. It is a period of supervision of a criminal offender by a corrections officer, usually in the form of a probation officer. A probation officer is a person who oversees probation and parole and helps the offender with other adjustments in returning to the community after imprisonment.

Probation is typically granted at the discretion of the judge overseeing the case. Frequently, probation is granted in non-violent crimes. Moreover, probation is likely to be granted when there is a first-time offense.


There are many different rules that can apply to an offender's probation. These are known as conditions of probation. The potential conditions of probation may include any of the following conditions, or a combination of them, depending on the nature of the offender's crimes:

  • The offender cannot commit any other crimes while on probation
  • The offender will attend a work rehabilitation program
  • The offender will attend a drug or alcohol rehabilitation program if necessary
  • The offender will obtain gainful employment
  • The offender will avoid contact with other criminals
  • The offender will provide support to dependents, if any exist
  • The offender will provide a DNA sample
  • The offender will register as a sex offender, if their crime was a sex crime
  • The offender will undergo medical or psychiatric treatment if necessary
  • The offender will avoid excessive usage of alcohol, drugs, or controlled substances
  • The offender will submit to drug testing
  • The offender will routinely report to a probation officer
  • The offender will reside in a certain geographic location
  • The offender will comply with court orders

It is important to note that this is just an illustrative list. The court is free to impose as many legally proper conditions as necessary in any particular case.


There are various types of probation. Initially, there is a type of probation known as supervised probation, which means that the offender has to routinely meet with his or her probation officer. In addition, the offender must also adhere to specific rules, such as the ones previously mentioned.

The next type of probation is unsupervised probation, which is rare and is typically utilized only in minor crime cases, such as petty theft. In unsupervised probation, the offender must agree to a release plan, but he or she does not have to check in with a probation officer during the release plan term.

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