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Definition - What does probation mean?

In the criminal justice system, probation refers to a suspension of a jail sentence. Probation usually serves as a means for individuals to avoid incarceration following a criminal conviction.

Rather than serving his or her criminal sentence in jail, the individual is permitted to remain in the community. However, while on probation the person must comply with certain court-imposed restrictions and remains under the supervision of a probation officer or other representative of the criminal justice system.

SureHire explains probation

Probation is a criminal sentencing option that allows a convicted criminal to serve his or her penalty outside of jail. A person granted probation will still have a criminal conviction on his or her record but by adhering to the conditions of the probation, may avoid being confined to jail or prison. A violation of a person's probation may result in him or her losing the privilege of probation and being incarcerated.

While probation and parole are often used interchangeably, the two are not exactly the same. Probation is an alternative to a prison sentence, while parole is a conditional release from prison following some period of incarceration.

Employers who conduct a criminal history background check will be notified of a criminal conviction, even if the individual's sentence is being served as probation.

However, in some instances, a court may offer what is called pre-trial probation. More commonly known as pre-trial diversion, this type of probation differs from the traditional as it precedes a criminal conviction. While a traditional probation agreement will appear on a criminal history background check, a pre-trial probation agreement may not. In states that prohibit the use of non-conviction information in making employment decisions, a pre-trial diversion cannot be considered.

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