Child Crime Prevention & Safety Center

Juvenile Shock Probation

Increasingly, juvenile courts are recognizing the benefits of placing minor offenders on probation in lieu of lengthy sentences away from home in locked juvenile detention facilities. Studies have shown that removing a juvenile from his or her home and placing them in a locked facility can be devastating to the minor’s development and can actually lead to increased rates of recidivism. However, some judges recognize that short stays in juvenile facilities or the threat of detention can be a powerful deterrent to delinquent youths. Some states have attempted to strike a balance by using “shock probation” as a sentencing strategy. Shock probation is intended to introduce juvenile offenders to the realities of incarceration by a short-term sentence in a locked facility.

What is Shock Probation?

The idea behind shock probation is to give youthful offenders a glimpse into the realities of incarceration in order to deter them from future criminal conduct. For states that use shock probation, an offender is sentenced to a period of confinement in a locked facility. However, after a short period of time, the offender can petition the court to release the individual and place him or her on probation, either at home or at a suitable foster family or group home setting.

In states that use shock probation for adult offenders, the defendant is expected to file a timely motion after being sentenced to prison. Failure to file a timely shock probation motion may result in forfeiture of an inmate’s right to request shock probation. The prison authorities will typically submit a report to the judge regarding the inmate’s behavior during the time of incarceration. Good behavior can increase an inmate’s chance of receiving shock probation.

Shock probation began in Ohio in 1965 and involved approximately 4,000 adult prisoners who only served the first sixty to ninety days of their original sentence. The recidivism rate for those placed on shock probation was only 9% which was far below the national average. As a result, other states such as Kentucky, Indiana, George, Texas, Alabama, Iowa and Maine have enacted their own shock probation programs.

Benefits of Shock Probation for Juvenile Offenders

Shock probation is intended as a deterrent for youthful or low-level criminal offenders. The concept of shock probation is that if the offender appreciates the consequences of criminal activity, he or she will be deterred from committing future offenses. This can be especially effective for minor offenders in an attempt “scare them straight.”

Many states use shock probation, or similar programs, when dealing with youthful offenders as lengthy sentences in locked juvenile facilities have increasingly become disfavored. Juvenile court judges may want young offenders to get a “taste” of incarceration to deter them from committing future criminal offenses. This can be very effective for certain youthful offenders.

Criticism of Shock Probation for Juvenile Offenders

Many experts have criticized the use of shock probation for young offenders. Studies have shown that even short stays in locked juvenile facilities can have devastating effects on a minor’s physical, emotional and psychological health. Many of the minors appearing in juvenile delinquency court have mental health conditions and locked detention can exacerbate these conditions and in some case cause permanent psychological scars. In addition, studies have shown that removing a minor from his or her home, school or local community can also be extremely traumatic and may actually lead to increased rates of criminality and recidivism.

Experts have argued that having minors remain at home and at school on probation is significantly more effective in rehabilitating juvenile offenders and places them in the proper framework to be functioning and law-abiding members of society. Juvenile offenders are extremely susceptible to negative influences and in some cases, sending a minor to a locked facility may introduce them to bad influences and even increase the likelihood that they will reoffend once released. They feel the dangers of shock probation outweigh any intended benefits when applied to juvenile offenders.