The Juvenile Court systems main focus is the rehabilitation of a young offender, as opposed to the Adult Criminal Court system, which focuses on punishment. More often than not, juvenile court judges find it to be in the best interests of the minor not to be incarcerated, opting instead for detention/rehabilitation, counseling, house arrest, or the topic of this page, probation. Probation involves the supervision of the juvenile by a probation officer, ensuring they follow the orders of the Juvenile Court Judge while remaining in the community. As long as the juvenile abides by the Court’s rules, they will not face further discipline or incarceration.
Probation is a sentencing alternative commonly issued by juvenile court judges because many believe it is best for the young offender to remain in their community. However, many people incorrectly believe probation simply involves the offender calling their probation officer once a week to say hello. This couldn’t be further from the truth.
What Does a Probation Officer Do?
When a juvenile court judge sentences a juvenile offender to probation, they often impose guidelines and penalties that must be adhered to by the juvenile throughout the probation period. This may include attending treatment for psychological issues, drug and alcohol abuse, passing certain educational criteria, or paying restitution or fines, among others. It is the probation officer’s job to make sure a juvenile successfully follows all of the terms of probation. The probation officer often assists the juvenile in completing these goals, serving more as a coach than a disciplinarian. The ultimate goal of a probation officer is to assist the juvenile in entering the community as a responsible, law-abiding citizen.
Probation officers will determine the extent of supervision over the juvenile that is necessary, based on their assessment of the juvenile’s needs and risk to the community. The officer also maintains an understanding of the various programs throughout the state that assist offenders, such as community service groups that work with juveniles, helping them become positively active in the community. Probation officers serve multiple roles, which includes seeing the judge’s guidelines of the probation are met, supervising the juvenile, and assisting them in becoming active in the community.
What Happens if a Juvenile Offender Violates the Terms of Their Probation?
Probation officers have a job to ensure that juvenile offenders adhere to sentencing guidelines imposed by the Juvenile Courts. Unfortunately, juvenile offenders sometimes do not listen to these guidelines. What happens when a violation occurs? That depends on what the violation is. New Jersey has set guidelines for probation officers, requiring them to file a “Violation of Probation” (VOP) with the Juvenile Court under certain situations. Once a VOP is filed, the Juvenile Court Judge will decide what to do with the offender, usually opting towards incarceration or placement in a treatment facility.
If a juvenile on probation commits a crime, this is a serious violation of their probation. Actions of the probation officer will depend on the seriousness of the crime. All first and second degree crimes, (the most serious crimes), require the probation officer to file a VOP. Third and fourth degree crimes, still indictable criminal offenses but less serious, given the option to the probation officer whether to file a VOP or to wait until the trial for the new offense concludes. The probation officer is likely to look at the seriousness of the charges as well as circumstances surrounding the incident and the juvenile’s participation in the probation process thus far. For disorderly persons offenses and traffic tickets, the probation officer will likely consult with their superior to determine whether or not to file a VOP. If it is determined that a VOP is not warranted, the probation officer may issue their own sanctions upon the individual.
Crimes are not the only violations of probation that may occur. As previously mentioned, Juvenile Courts will place guidelines and conditions to the probation for the juvenile. Probation officers themselves may impose some additional requirements related to reporting to the officer. Failure to abide by the Court’s guidelines or the probation officer’s requirements can result in the officer filing a VOP, at their discretion. For example, failure to report to the probation officer can result in a VOP if the probation officer deems it necessary. If the juvenile fails to report one time, the officer may give them a pass if they have a good record of reporting in the past or the officer may require them to report more frequently in the near future before filing a VOP. If it is the offender’s third time failing to report, the officer may file a VOP. Other violations such as leaving the jurisdiction, leaving one’s home while on house arrest, and lying to the probation officer can also result in intermediate sanctions imposed by the officer or the filing of a VOP, depending on the circumstances. Failure to participate in counseling, attend rehabilitation programs, attend school, and follow curfews are other common violations of probation guidelines. These too will usually result in immediate sanctions by the probation officer, such as increased reporting, rather than immediate filing of a VOP. However, it is important to keep in mind that the probation officer often evaluates these on a case-by-case basis, so it is usually within their discretion to file a VOP if they deem it necessary. As a juvenile offender, the best way to avoid the filing of a VOP and risk of going to jail is to simply follow the probation guidelines and requirements given to you by the judge and probation officer.
The probation system in the Juvenile Courts is favorable to juvenile offenders. It allows offenders to remain in their communities rather than be incarcerated. Hiring a qualified Juvenile Court attorney can make all the difference in your case. Presenting proper arguments can make the difference in whether your child is sentenced to probation or incarceration.
An experienced Juvenile Court attorney can also defend your child if they are accused of violating their probation. Call Fredrick P. Niemann, Esq. today toll-free at (855) 376-5291 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. He will be happy to meet with you to discuss your Juvenile Court matter.
Written by Fredrick P. Niemann, Esq. of Hanlon Niemann & Wright, a New Jersey Juvenile Court Law Firm