The Effect of Probation on Recidivism

The United States Prison System

The United States has among the highest rates of imprisonment in the world. The number of inmates as at 2016 was about 8 million (Markman et al., 2016). The high prison populations have been blamed for the high expenditures of the justice system. Therefore, there has been a lot of debate on how to reduce the expenditures of the justice system. One of the methods that have been proposed is probation. The alternative to incarceration involves courts ordering the supervision of offenders outside prisons rather than incarceration. The paper will examine the relationship between probation and recidivism. According to available evidence, probation reduces the rates of recidivism.

Types of Offenders on Probation

The justice system of the United States of America puts various types of the offenders on probation. The offenders that benefit from probation mostly include misdemeanor offenders, offenders of domestic violence and violent criminals among other kinds of offenders. However, to ensure that the offenders are in check, parole officers usually observe them (Markman et al., 2016). Therefore, for the system to work, parole officers are very important. Probation can be through paroles and therefore, elimination of parole is likely to reduce the cases of offenders rehabilitating via probation.

Probation versus Incarceration

Probation results in better rehabilitation as compared to incarceration. According to surveys done by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, individuals who undergo probation are less likely to be rearrested than those who are incarcerated. Various researchers have questioned the effectiveness of incarceration due to the high rates of rearrests and the congestion that results. Ryan, Abrams, and Huang (2014) found that The Bureau of Justice Statistics performed a survey between 2005 and 2010 on the rates of recidivism among offenders after five years of their release (Markman et al., 2016). The study estimated that 45 percent of offenders are arrested after five years of being released. Another study estimated that 76.6 percent of offenders who were incarcerated were rearrested after five years (National Institute of Justice, 2014). Therefore, it is evident that probation is more effective than incarceration.

Reducing Prison Population

Due to reducing the rates of recidivism and application as an alternative for incarceration, probation reduces the prison population. Probation allows offenders to serve their sentences outside the prisons. The offenders serve their communities and improve their behaviors rather than in the state and federal prisons where there is congestion. According to the American Bureau of Justice Statistics, in 2005, there were 43,000 people on probation (Markman et al., 2016). The number reduced the prison population, even not significantly. If it was done at a larger scale, the effect would have been bigger. Therefore, probation is more effective than incarceration in the rehabilitation of offenders.

Limitations of Probation

Despite the effectiveness of probation, the method has some limitations. First, it does not punish and therefore, may not be good for everyone. Therefore, it is mostly used for first-time offenders only rather than on career criminals. Also, it involves the employment of supervisory officers. Therefore, it may be unsustainable if done at large scales. Therefore, its applicability is limited.


In conclusion, probation is a means of correction that involves the offenders serving within their communities under the supervision of officers of the justice system. Even though probation is less common than imprisonment, research shows that it is more effective with regards to results on the offenders and the reduction of the population of the prisons. Therefore, it is advisable that judges consider giving offenders more probation sentences rather than imprisonment to ensure that they not only reduce recurrence of crime but also reduce expenditures incurred in maintaining the prisons.


Markman, J. A., Durose, M. R., Rantala, R. R., " Tiedt, A. D. (2016). Recidivism of offenders placed on federal community supervision in 2005: Patterns from 2005 to 2010. Bureau of Justice Statistics, 1-16.

National Institute of Justice. (2014). Recidivism. Retrieved February 09, 2018, from

Ryan, J. P., Abrams, L. S., " Huang, H. (2014). First-Time Violent Juvenile Offenders: Probation, Placement, and Recidivism. Social Work Research, 38(1), 7-18. doi:10.1093/swr/svu004

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