Guest Column

February 17, 2014

Probation can offer accountability, support

Perhaps you’ve heard people ask, “How come they only got probation?” 

It’s a mistake to think that probation is nothing. Often, people who commit crimes have made very poor choices, dropped out of school, abused drugs and struggled with a variety of other problems.

Sometimes, they grew up without any real parenting: no structure, no positive role models, no successes, no self-esteem.

Since at 16 you are an adult for criminal prosecution, I saw a lot of teenagers in Plattsburgh City Court. I also saw many older people whose criminal behavior started as teens or younger. 


When people break the law, they should be held accountable. 

In some cases, that definitely means incarceration. When they are locked up, they are away from the rest of us; we are safe from being victimized. 

But what happens when they are released?

A few definitions: First, jail and prison are not the same place. 

Jail is county jail, where a defendant can be sentenced for up to one year on a misdemeanor conviction. 

Under New York law, just about everyone gets one-third off for “good time,” so a one-year sentence is actually serving eight months. 

Prison is state incarceration for more than one year on a felony conviction; the length of the sentence is defined by the State Legislature depending on the felony.

Probation is a sentence alternative that a judge imposes. 

It is a way to stay out of jail or prison by following specified terms. 


However, if the person on probation violates the terms, the judge can revoke probation and re-sentence the person to as much county jail or state prison time as the law originally allowed for the conviction. 

Thus, probation is a period of supervised release. 

If the crime is a misdemeanor, probation lasts for one, three or six years, depending on the level of seriousness of the misdemeanor, five years if the conviction is a non-sex felony, 10 years for a felony sex offense. 

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