Typical probation rules in the United States include reporting to a probation officer, paying court costs, paying fines and restitution, successfully completing court-ordered programs or community service, and observing all laws. Probation is a court-ordered sentence that avoids incarceration in jail or prison, but places the offender under the supervision of a probation officer for the probation period. Parole rules are similar to probation rules but follow an inmate's early release from jail. Sentences in some jurisdictions offer a hybrid of jail and probation, including a halfway house, community confinement center or work release center.
Each city, county and state in the United States has different laws and rules governing criminal justice, which accounts for the wide variety of probation rules that may be imposed. The most common types of probation are supervised probation and unsupervised probation. For less serious crimes, the offender may be placed on unsupervised probation and ordered to complete the conditions of his probation without having to report to a probation officer.
Courts often impose a suspended jail sentence to be served if probation rules are not followed. Many conditions of probation are standardized. Standard probation rules include gainful employment, drug and alcohol abstinence, avoiding known criminals, permitting home and work inspections, being subjected to random drug testing, foregoing firearm possession, confinement to a particular area or neighborhood unless on has permission to leave it, and obeying all laws. Probation rules almost always include payment of court-ordered restitution and fees for the probation supervision.
Some offenses require more specific probation rules. A more serious or repeat offender might be ordered to wear an electronic monitoring device, which severely limits the probationer’s freedom of movement and is known as house arrest. A violent offender might be ordered to undergo mental health counseling, including anger management classes. An overwhelming number of crimes have their origin in drug abuse, and the court might order a substance abuse evaluation and make the successful completion of rehabilitation, including aftercare classes through Alcoholics Anonymous® or a similar program, a condition of probation.
Failure to follow probation rules results in a violation-of-probation hearing. If the court revokes probation, then the jail sentence is imposed. For minor infractions, the court may agree to more severe probation rules and reinstate probation. Another alternative is to impose jail time followed by reinstatement of the probation. Probation is often characterized as the offender’s second chance, so many courts do not permit further opportunities to avoid jail time.