A probation sentence, sometimes called community supervision, gives you the opportunity to stay in the community, work, and be with your family and friends with specific conditions instead of being sentenced to jail or the house of correction. A probation officer will be assigned to help and monitor you during your time on probation. There are approximately 86,000 people under probation supervision in Massachusetts. Of that number, 80.9 percent are men and 19.1 percent are women.
Probation is also an opportunity for you to make positive changes in your life and address problems that are known to contribute to criminal behavior. Your probation officer can be very helpful by referring you to resources, answering questions, and helping you meet the conditions of your probation. If you follow the court's orders and the probation officer's instructions, you'll complete your probation successfully. However, if you violate the conditions or don't follow your probation officer's instructions, your probation will be violated, and a judge may sentence you to jail.
Reporting to your probation officer
The frequency and nature of contacts with your probation officer will depend on a variety of factors. Not all probationers are required to report. If you are required to report, your probation officer will tell you the day and time of your meeting, and you're required to go. If you have an emergency or illness that keeps you from reporting, call and talk to your probation officer or their supervisor and get a new appointment. If you miss a probation appointment, call the probation office immediately, explain that you missed your appointment, and politely ask for another appointment. If you don't contact the probation office, you may be arrested.
When you have an office appointment with your probation officer, you should be prepared to bring proof of:
- Employment (a pay stub)
- Residence (a lease, copy of a utility bill, etc.)
- Community service hours
- Counseling or program attendance
- All drug prescriptions
- Documentation of any medical condition
- Immigration registration
- Any other documents your probation officer asks you to bring
You'll also need to sign a release of information so the probation officer can verify your attendance and completion of any court ordered treatment program(s).
Your probation officer may also visit you at your home or job. These field visits must be conducted as part of the supervision process, and it's not their intent to embarrass you or create problems for you or your family. If you have any concerns about field visits, you should share them with your probation officer beforehand.
In some cases, you may be ordered to complete urine testing for illegal drugs or breath tests for alcohol. You're allowed to use prescribed drugs while on probation. If you don't complete the testing or have a positive test result, this may result in a violation of probation.
If you're arrested, charged with any offense, or have any police contact, contact your probation officer immediately. If you're unable to speak directly with your probation officer, ask for a supervisor.
Paying fees and restitution
Generally, all court ordered fees and restitution payments are made at the Clerk's Office of the court that sentenced you. There is no monthly probation fee (supervised or administrative) for the first 6 months after release from a prison or house of correction. Payment must be made with cash, a certified bank check, or a money order. Some courts are now accepting payment by credit card — this option may be available in your court. You'll be given a receipt for each payment you make. Please save your receipts. Payment plans may also be available with the judge's approval. Talk to your probation officer for more information.
Submitting DNA samples
If you've been adjudicated or convicted of an offense that's punishable by imprisonment in the state prison, you have to provide a DNA sample through the Massachusetts State Police Crime Laboratory. Not providing the sample violates your probation in addition to being a separate criminal offense punishable by a fine of no more than $2000 or imprisonment in a jail or house of correction for no more than 6 months, or both. It's your responsibility to contact the MA State Police Crime Laboratory to schedule the date, time, and location where the sample will be taken by calling (888) 877-4362. Costs for the procedure will be billed directly to you. Once you've paid, a receipt will be issued, which you must show to your probation officer. If you don’t provide a DNA sample, probation officers have the authority to take a sample.
Signing up for community service
The Trial Court Community Service Program operates from the courts and Community Corrections Centers around the state. They accept referrals from probation officers and have regularly scheduled hours to help you complete your required community service. If you can’t participate in the Trial Court Community Service Program, your probation officer may refer you to a non-profit agency or organization in the community that needs help from volunteers. You can also perform community service at a non-profit agency or organization of your choice if your probation officer approves it beforehand and your hours are verified.
Rules of probation
There are certain rules you need to follow while on probation.
- If you want to move out of the state — You can move out of the state if you've received formal documented permission from your probation officer. Your probation officer will explain the process and what you need to do to transfer your probation supervision to the new state. The Interstate Commission for Adult Supervision (ICAOS) oversees the probation compact between states. There is a similar system for transfer of juvenile probation.
- If you want to travel out of the state — You may be given permission to travel outside the state if you're in compliance with the court-imposed conditions of your probation, have received permission from your probation officer, and have been issued a signed travel permit. Travel permits may be issued for up to 14 days.
Additional Resources for
Eligible offenders can earn probation compliance credits that reduce the length of post-disposition probation supervision. To be eligible, you must be an offender whose sentence includes incarceration followed by probation supervision who’s been released to probation. This doesn’t include anyone under post-disposition supervision for a sex offense.
Eligible offenders can earn compliance credits after a year on probation. After that, up to completing 2 years on probation, you can earn 5 days of compliance credit on the first of each month if you were compliant for the previous month. After 2 years on probation, you can earn 10 days per compliant month. You can’t earn credits if a violation is pending.
The judge may have ordered that you're placed on a term of Administrative Probation supervision. You may or may not be required to report, and it may include other conditions. You'll have a probation officer assigned to make sure you follow any court orders, and you must contact the probation officer to report any change in employment or residence and to request permission to travel out of state. You may be allowed to mail or email or scan in verification of community service hours, verification of any required program(s), and payments of restitution and fees. If you're told to report in person, you’re expected to follow the instructions to report. If you don't follow these conditions, your case will be returned to court for a violation hearing.