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Probation: It's not a 'get out of jail free' pass

If you are facing criminal charges, you would likely trade any amount of jail time for probation as it can allow you stay in your home, see your family and keep your job in many cases. 

However, make no mistake: Probation should be taken very seriously as a violation or even a suspected violation can get you in more trouble than you may have been in originally. In fact, there are some critics of the current probation system in the U.S. who argue that probation is far too harsh and ultimately ineffective in helping people recover and rebuild their lives after a conviction.

Generally speaking, probation is intended to be a system that holds a person accountable for a criminal offense without sentencing that person to imprisonment. Ideally, as long as a person complies with the terms of probation, he or she can avoid the full extent of penalties for a criminal conviction and may even be able to have the conviction expunged.

Unfortunately, this is not the experience that many people have. The terms and conditions of probation have expanded considerably over time to a level some may consider unreasonable. In fact, the restrictions can be so harsh that a person's job, family, financial future and/or living situation are put in jeopardy.

Some people feel so restricted and confined by the rigid rules of probation that they feel as though they are still prisoners. Further, in the event that they do violate the terms of probation, they can face harsher penalties and probation revocation even if the violation itself is minor.

This is not to say that completing probation is impossible or that probation violations are inevitable. Many people are able to successfully complete the terms of their probation and find themselves in a much better situation than someone who received jail time instead of probation. But it is crucial to understand that probation should be taken seriously.

If you are facing criminal charges or have been accused of violating your probation, then you would be wise to consult an attorney about your situation sooner rather than later.

Source: The New York Times, "Probation May Sound Light, but Punishments Can Land Hard," Shaila Dewan, Aug. 2, 2015

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