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The Power of Probation

How probation officers can help protect survivors from re-abuse

  • August 21, 2017
  • By domesticshelters.org
The Power of Probation

You’ve been abused and terrorized, and then you relived every dreadful second again and again in reporting the abuse to police and throughout the legal process. You stood for pictures of your injuries. You showed up to testify. You fought like hell to get your abuser convicted.

And he got probation.

Many survivors of domestic violence feel betrayed by the criminal justice system. But if you’re lucky enough that your abuser was actually convicted of a domestic violence crime and is on probation, you may have just gained an invaluable resource.

Probation Defined

First, let’s start with explaining exactly what probation is. Probation is court-ordered supervision of an offender for a specified period of time. It is granted in place of sending an offender to jail. During probation, an offender must check in with a probation officer and adhere to the probation conditions, which are basically a set of rules the offender must follow in order to maintain his probation status.

“The first rule of probation is that you have to obey the law,” says Andrew Klein, senior criminal justice analyst for Advocates for Human Potential and former chief probation officer for Quincy District Court in Massachusetts.

Conditions of probation can also include such things as not contacting the victim and going to a batterer intervention program. If an offender fails to adhere to the conditions, probation could be revoked, in which case, the offender could be ordered to pay fines, have time added to the probation period or be sentenced to jail.

How Revocation Works

Revoking probation is a much faster process than the initial criminal proceedings. And the burden of proving a violation is lower as well. Once the probation officer learns the offender has violated a law or the terms of his probation, the officer can request a hearing with a judge.

“The probationer still has a right to a lawyer and there needs to be evidence,” Klein says. “But the amount of evidence needed for revocation is lower than conviction in criminal court.”

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In criminal court, the prosecutor must show beyond a reasonable doubt that the offender committed a crime. In a probation hearing, the threshold is only “preponderance of the evidence,” which means that the judge needs to be convinced it’s more likely than not the probationer violated the probation terms.

Many times, the survivor doesn’t even have to be involved in the process. Say your abuser is contacting you against the terms of her or his probation. You can file a police report or send proof of the communication to his probation officer and may never even be summoned to court. Or, if you know your abuser is violating probation by drinking, doing drugs or possessing a firearm, you can tell the probation officer and they will conduct an investigation.

“If we find out he’s on drugs, we’ll call him in for a ‘random’ drug test,” Klein says. “He could be revoked without any further involvement from the victim.”

Other Perks of Probation for Survivors

Probation officers can even assist in collecting restitution or child support if those are included in the probation terms. “Damages are usually a standard issue of probation, including if the victim had to change the locks on their house or the offender emptied their checking account,” Klein says. “Probation should make sure the person pays it.”

Once probation is established, your abuser’s probation officer should call to you to open the lines of communication. But if the officer doesn’t, contact your county’s probation office and reach out yourself. Establishing a relationship early on can help you throughout the probation period.

Interested in learning more about restitution and how you can get it? Read “What Is Crime Victim Compensation?