Probation orders are one of a range of sentences available to courts when considering offending behaviour. If the court feels that social work assistance and supervision may help the person avoid getting into trouble in the future then a probation order can be imposed. Probation orders are supervised by social work staff and often contain conditions which offenders must meet in order to comply with the order.
In essence a Probation Order gives a person who has committed an offence the chance to be of good behaviour while getting support to avoid further offending.
The court can make a probation order lasting between six months and three years. Three standard conditions are attached:
- to be of good behaviour
- to conform to the directions of the supervising officer
- to inform the supervising officer at once of change of address or employment
In addition to these, the court can impose any number of other conditions, for example:
- attending drug or alcohol counselling
- carrying out unpaid work
- restriction of liberty
- living in a certain place
- having medical or psychiatric treatment
- direct attendance at a specific programme
- having no contact with specified individuals
- not being in/at a certain place at a certain time
- paying compensation
This list is not exhaustive and other conditions can be imposed to meet the needs of or risks presented by a specific offender.
What does a Probation Order involve?
Someone who is sentenced to a Probation Order will have to keep regular contact (initially weekly) with social work staff and comply with all conditions of the order. During probation, the social worker will visit the person's home and may involve family members to ensure the order is completed successfully.
The social worker has to make sure that the conditions of the probation order are being met and also to help the probationer avoid further trouble. This involves discussing previous offences committed and looking at ways to avoid this happening again. The social worker may also direct the probationer to attend counselling or other programmes if they assess that it will help him or her avoid further offending.
What would happen if the conditions of a probation order were broken?
There are two ways to breach a probation order:
- by not keeping to any of the conditions shown on the order
In these circumstances, the social worker has to inform the court by submitting a breach of probation report. The court can then order the offender to appear and can impose an alternative sentence, for example:
- a custodial sentence
- replace the order with another sentence
- impose a fine and let the probation continue
- change the probation order, for example by making it longer or adding conditions
- by committing another offence
Again, the social worker has to inform the court by submitting a breach of probation report. The court can sentence the offender for the new offence and for the original offence they were placed on probation for. The court can allow the probation order to continue, with or without changes.
As well as reporting to their social worker regularly, it is expected that all people subject to supervision under a probation order attend an 18 week groupwork programme which helps them develop problem solving skills. This programme is run in local areas and is designed to equip offenders with skills to avoid further offending. Sessions focus on:
- rights and responsibilities
- offending behaviour
- anger awareness
- job search
Successful completion of the groupwork programme gives each individual a basic education award which can be used towards other qualifications in the future.
There are also programmes that are more specific to certain types of offences:
- The Community Sex Offender Groupwork Programme (CSOGP)
- The Fergus Programme - for perpetrators of domestic abuse
The completion of a probation order
If someone makes good progress on a probation order, social work staff may consider applying to court for an early discharge.