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Learn about the probation process for adults

If you’ve been found guilty of a crime, read a step-by-step overview of what happens next.

Before you start

Usually, you start to work with the Probation Department:

  • After you have been found guilty of a crime (or pled guilty to a crime)
  • Before you are sentenced (when the court decides the punishment for your crime) 

However, you may also start working with the Probation Department without even being charged with a crime. This is called pretrial supervision. It’s different from the process described on this page. Learn about pretrial supervision .


  1. Meet with an investigator in the Probation Department

    After your trial (or after you plead guilty) you will meet with an investigator. This person is not a police officer. They will want to:

    • Hear your side of the story
    • Learn about your life and understand the big picture
    • Learn about obstacles you’ve faced that have made it hard for you to succeed

    Based on what you tell them, the investigator will write a report for the court. They will balance what they learn about your life with the crime you were convicted of. They want you to get a fair sentence.

  2. Go to court for sentencing

    This is when the court decides the punishment for your crime. The court will consider the investigator’s report and make a decision. There are 2 possible outcomes:

    • If you are sentenced to jail, you will go to jail right away. You aren’t eligible for probation.
    • If you are sentenced to probation, you will be allowed to complete your sentence outside of jail. You’ll be able to go home (see step 3).
  3. Return home and start probation

    During this time, you’ll work closely with your probation officer. They’ll help you understand the rules of your probation. Learn more about working with your probation officer.

    You’ll need to take responsibility for making changes in your life - and letting your probation officer know what kind of help you need. They can refer you to resources that will help you get your life back on track. That can include:

    • Counseling, therapy, and mental health services
    • Education
    • Support finding a job
    • Training to build skills
    • Help with substance abuse
    • Services for veterans
    • Support for domestic violence

    Every person’s probation is different. The right approach depends on you and your situation. You may need to be under formal house arrest (you aren’t allowed to leave home) or have your location tracked.

  4. Keep working with your probation officer until probation is over

    The court will tell you how long you will be on probation. During that time, you need to:

    • Keep in close contact with your probation officer
    • Follow the rules of your probation
    • Lead a law abiding life

    What happens if you don't follow the rules? 

    You might have to go back to court and then spend the rest of your sentence in jail. 

    What happens once probation is over?

    If you follow the rules and complete probation, you’re free. You don’t need to report to your probation officer anymore. 


Page updated March 25, 2024