Violation of Probation
Natalia J. Garland
The kidnapping and murder of 11-year-old Carlie Brucia shocked and
concerned all Americans. Carlie was abducted on February 1, 2004,
while walking home. A carwash security camera happened to catch
the abduction on videotape. This led to the arrest of Joseph Smith,
a probationer and drug addict with a record of 13 previous arrests
in Florida since 1993. After Smith was caught, he informed police
that they could find Carlie's body in the Central Church of Christ
previous arrests were heroin possession, prescription fraud,
carrying a concealed weapon (a knife), aggravated battery, and
attempted kidnapping (for which he was acquitted). After a
violation of probation, his third since he was last released from
prison on January 1, 2003, Smith was returned to society by Judge
Harry Rapkin. Smith's probation officer had recommended
revocation of probation and long-term residential treatment, and
prison if necessary. Smith could have been facing a five-year
prison sentence. Judge Rapkin has defended his decision to release
Smith. Judge Rapkin has been under criticism for this and has
received death threats. (For a follow-up on Joseph Smith, see Behavior Patterns.)
Since many mental
health workers have probationers on their caseloads, it seems
timely to: (1) review the purpose of probation, (2) define
violation of probation, (3) define the consequences of violation
of probation, and(4) develop ways to manage these cases. We
need to make absolutely sure that our clinical approaches and
recommendations on behalf of the probationer are not potentially
harmful to society.
(1) Why are some
criminal offenders placed on probation rather than sentenced to
prison? Why are some prisoners released early on conditional
terms of parole or probation? Probation can be granted when it is
deemed sufficient punishment for the crime, and when the offender
is not thought to be a threat to society. Probationers must
report regularly to their probation officer, as well as comply
with other various conditions. One of these conditions may be to
complete an alcohol/drug counselling program. The purpose is the
rehabilitation of the probationer. Probationers are expected to
learn pro-social attitudes and behavior. They must learn to
accept responsibility for self, behavior, and the consequences of
(2) What is a
violation of probation? If a probationer fails to maintain any
of the conditional terms of probation, this failure is called a
violation. These conditions could include any of the following.
Remain alcohol and drug free.
Cooperate with mandated alcohol and drug testing.
Stay within the state.
Pay fines and/or restitution.
Attend a job training or educational program.
Obtain employment if not enrolled in school.
Perform a community service.
Not have contact with certain individuals.
Abide by all laws.
Complete a counselling program.
Be placed on house arrest.
Report regularly to a probation officer.
(3) What happens
when probation is violated? The consequences can vary depending
on the nature of the violation, the severity of the original crime
for which the offender received probation, and whether the
offender has had prior convictions. Here are some possibilities.
Prison or jail sentence.
Serve the remainder of a prison sentence, in cases where an
offender was released early.
Serve additional time along with the remainder of a prison
sentence, in cases where an offender was released early.
Continue probation with added conditions. These added conditions
could be any of the ones listed in (2) above.
(4) How are mental
health workers to manage treatment for probationers who are
referred to treatment? Probationers can be referred for various
types of counselling, such as alcohol/drug rehabilitation, anger
management, and parenting skills. The mandate for the type of
counselling may be ordered by the judge, or it may be left to the
evaluation and recommendation of the therapist. There must be a
clear understanding among the judge, probation officer, therapist
and probationer regarding the treatment requirements.
Requirements include length of treatment, number of sessions
per week, and goals and objectives. The probation officer is
responsible for explaining the consequences of probation violation
and treatment non-compliance to the probationer.
The therapist must
communicate with the probation officer regarding the probationer's
compliance and progress. This usually involves monthly written
progress reports, and phone calls as needed. There is some room
for clinical judgment. Severe problems, such as relapse on
alcohol or drugs, should be reported immediately. The probation
officer may decide to recommend to the court that probation be
revoked, or decide that the therapist should re-evaluate the
probationer and then modify the treatment plan or refer to a
higher level of care as appropriate. Depending on the quality of
professionalism between the probation officer and the therapist,
there may be discussion and a mutual decision on what to do.
the treatment program is often the first sign of failure. A
missed session, for example, could mean that the probationer
caught the flu and forgot to call to cancel his session. Or, it
could mean that he was out all night with old friends, thereby
violating a condition of probation as well as jeopardizing
rehabilitation. Therapists have to individualize their cases,
while adhering to contractual rules and avoiding unnecessary risks
to the patient and society. When in doubt, report. Any missed
appointments and tardiness must be listed in the monthly progress
report. Even with an incident of one missed appointment, the
therapist should telephone the probationer as soon as possible and
attempt to find out what happened. If the probationer cannot be
located, then there is reason for increased concern and action.*
Treatment plans for
probationers should include the conditional terms of probation.
Other goals and objectives will revolve around the purpose for
referral, such as learning anger management skills, and so on. A
good relationship between therapist and probationer can be
difficult to achieve due to the professional obligation to report.
Here some areas that could be problematic for therapists.
Feeling to blame if a probationer is sentenced to prison.
Wanting to give chances.
Not providing accurate reports to the probation officer (i.e.,
Reacting angrily or punitively toward a probationer's poor
attitude or prison mentality.
Having a double standard toward probationers: expectations
that are too high or too low compared to non-mandated patients.
Believing everything a probationer says without getting
verification from the probation officer.
Assuming anything a probationer says is a lie just
because he is a probationer.
Blurring the boundaries between clinical and legal decisions.
Each agency needs
to work out their specific programs in conjunction with the local
probation department and court system. Probationers, like all
patients, deserve the best care we can give them. If we can help
probationers to become productive citizens, then all of society
benefits. Let us do our part to protect children like Carlie
[*NOTE: The content
of this essay is brief and generalized. It is meant to give
readers a basic introduction to the concept of probation. It is
not meant to serve as legal advice or as instruction for any
treatment program. Mental health practitioners must follow any
terms and laws applicable to their work. Probation cases must be
managed according to severity of offenses and diagnoses.]
(Written 02/16/04: bibliography available.)
Until we meet