Probation: Strength through Association

By Evans, Donald G. | Corrections Today, August 1995 | Go to article overview

Probation: Strength through Association


Evans, Donald G., Corrections Today


The story of probation begins in a Boston courtroom in 1841 when John Augustus, a local shoemaker, became interested in the operation of the courts. He was particularly sensitive to and interested in the problems of individuals who were before the courts for alcohol-related offenses. Augustus intervened in selected cases before the court and, by posting bail, had the offenders released to his supervision. He was not indiscriminate in his requests, and he developed one of the first risk/needs assessment procedures. He carefully screened the offenders he sought to help. In his own words: "Great care was observed of course, to ascertain whether the prisoners were promising subjects for probation, and to this end it was necessary to take into consideration the previous character of the person, his age, and the influences by which he would in the future be likely to be surrounded."

He was the first person to use the word "probation" in a correctional context. For his efforts, Augustus has been recognized by countless probation officers, past and present, as the "Father of Probation." He left a legacy, a working model - or in today's language, a technology of care. His method of working involved what today would be considered good probation practice - namely investigating, screening, interviewing and supervising those released and providing them with aftercare services, including employment, relief and education assistance.

By 1878, Massachusetts passed legislation formalizing probation and providing authority to create a paid probation staff. The rest, as they say, is history.

ACA's Early Support for Probation

Support for probation has always been forthcoming from the American Correctional Association (ACA). Gardiner Tufts, at the 1889 Congress of Correction in Nashville, stated: "Imprisonments are more frequent and numerous than they need to be. Many an imprisoned convict could be as effectually restrained outside a prison as within; he could be better dealt with, while at the same time, the community outside could be as well protected against him. Moreover, under efficient control, in a free community, he can oftentimes be more speedily and surely reformed than if excluded from society by walls . . . The time has come for a systematic effort to keep out of prison a large class of adults who are now committed to prison. It seems to us that the least restraint upon an offender, which is sufficient to hold him from harm to himself and from harming the community, is the best to impose upon him."

In 1901, Elizabeth Tuttle, a probation officer from Boston, was asked to describe her work for the benefit of those in attendance at the Kansas City Congress of Correction. She gave a brief history of probation in her state and described her work method. She concluded her remarks by saying, "[W]e try to keep them out of prison when we can." This theme - keeping offenders out of prison - continued as a probation mission of early reformers who spoke at the annual congresses.

The NPA and ACA

In 1907, a handful of probation officers founded the National Association of Probation Officers at the National Conference of Charities and Correction. In the same year, at the Chicago Congress, Judge Mack noted in a discussion on probation that he had "learned that the imprisonment of men with families oftentimes works a greater hardship upon the family than upon the criminal." He exhorted those present to foster the development of probation in their locales.

By 1911, the first directory of probation officers was published, and the newly formed association for probation officers had changed its name to the National Probation Association (NPA). The association's first independent conference was in Buffalo in 1913, and by 1915 it had published its first annual proceedings.

In 1921, NPA cooperated with the American Prison Association (now ACA) in presenting a one-day conference on probation in Jacksonville, Fla. …

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