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Impact of Formal and Informal Social Controls on the Criminal Activities of Probationers

NCJ Number
Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency Volume: 39 Issue: 3 Dated: August 2002 Pages: 243-276
Date Published
August 2002
34 pages

This study examined self-reported criminal activities, risk behaviors, and local life circumstances of offenders who began sentences of probation on Northern Virginia.


Probation has not been the subject of extensive research. Many have questioned whether probation has any impact on the criminal activities of offenders. This study was designed to investigate the impact of arrest and probation on the criminal activities of offenders that were serving sentences of probation. Probationers were interviewed about their activities in the year prior to arrest for the current sentence and from arrest to the beginning of probation. Interviews were conducted with a sample of 125 offenders with 107 of these being interviewed a second time 6 months after the first interview. The sample was selected from case opening records provided by three probation districts in Northern Virginia. All of the offenders had been convicted of felony offenses. Results showed that the criminal activities and risk behaviors of the offenders declined dramatically after arrest. They continued at this lower level throughout the probation period studied. When these offenders participated in high-risk behaviors such as carrying a gun, using drugs, and heavy use of alcohol, they committed more crimes. When they lived with spouses or were employed, they committed fewer crimes. No change was recorded in local life circumstances from the pre-arrest, arrest, and probation periods. The decline in criminal activities after arrest and during probation did not appear to be related to changes in informal social controls as measured by local life circumstances. Because the major decline in criminal activities occurred after arrest, it is proposed that arrest and probation have a deterrent effect on these offenders. However, this effect may be short-lived. How to improve the social bonds of probationers so that long-term positive changes can be sustained is a topic that deserves close examination in future research. One of the reasons for the lack of development in social bonds may be inadequate supervision. 3 figures, 4 tables, appendix, 3 notes, 42 references

Date Published: August 1, 2002