About the Criminal Justice System

In 1841 in Boston, Massachusetts a shoemaker named John Augustus offered to help the court in assisting drunks, vagrants and petty thieves to better themselves. According to the Harvard Law School Archives, Augustus asked the judge to put a common drunkard in his care. When he returned to Court after a period on probation, no one, not even the scrutinizing officers would have believed he was the same person.

Thus was born the American Probation System. The word probation comes from the Latin verb probare that means test or prove and the Latin noun probation meaning trial on approval. Essentially it means a suspension of the sentence, release on conditional behavior and supervision and control by an agent of the court.

Mr. Augustus and his many followers were unpaid until 1878 when the Boston courts enacted an ordinance that became Massachusetts state law in 1891. In 1903, California legislatures directed the courts to appoint probation officers and to create a separate court for juveniles.