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To the Honorable the Legislature of the State of New York:
The State Probation Commission respectfully submits the following report for the year 1915:
DEFINITION OF PROBATION Probation is a method by which the community, through its courts, seeks to supervise, discipline, and reform offenders with-. out imprisoning them. It is used especially for young or first offenders and others not hardened in vice or crime.
Persons found guilty — whether children or adults — after an investigation (usually by the probation officer) are conditionally given their liberty, under suspension of sentence and on their good behavior, and are placed under the authoritative, helpful, oversight of a man or woman appointed by the court as a probation officer. Those on probation must observe certain conditions, as, for instance, to report regularly to the probation officer (usually once a week), to abstain from evil associates and habits, to work regularly, to pay certain amounts weekly to the probation officer, for family support, fines or restitution, or such other conditions as the court may impose. In case of failure to observe such conditions, those on probation may be returned to court and otherwise dealt with. The probation officer keeps informed as to their conduct by home visits and in other ways, and by friendly and helpful means aids them in every way possible to improve their habits and circumstances.
HISTORY OF PROBATION The appointment of probation officers was first authorized by law in Massachusetts in 1878. In New York, as in other States, the use of some form of probation for offenders released under suspension of sentence developed without statutory authorization in certain courts. The first general probation law in this State was enacted in 1901. It allowed the appointment of probation officers without compensation and was limited to cities and applicable only to persons over sixteen years of age. The same year a special
law provided for the appointment of probation officers for juveniles in the city of Buffalo. In 1903, the probation law was extended to all parts of the State and made app icable to children. In 1905, provision was made to allow the payment of salaries by local authorities. The same year saw the appointment of a special Probation Commission by the Legislature of New York which thoroughly studied the probation work of the State. The Commission found very little effective probation work then being carried on and no uniformity of methods. In its report to the Governor in 1906, the Commission said: “ The appointment of probation officers has been carried into effect in but few of the courts.” Describing the irregularity and inconsistency of the work then done, it said: “ The underlying weakness of the probation systein as now conducted is to be found in the very large number of courts possessing the power of appointment of probation officers and in the absence of any supervision, co-ordination or organization of the work of probation officers, except such as may be exercised by the courts to which they are attached. There are practically as many systems of probation as there are courts using the probation law."
To aid in curing these evils and in extending the probation service to all the courts in this State, the Commission recommended central State supervision. The report of 1906 said: “We are, therefore, strongly of the opinion that, while probation work must always be permitted a considerable degree of flexibility to meet local conditions and individual needs, there should be provided, nevertheless, some form of central oversight. This should involve the collection of information in regard to the extent to which probation is utilized in different portions of the State from time to time, the manner in which probation work is carried on, and the value of the results secured. It should include the authority to make formal and detailed investigations of probation work in any given court or locality, when such is deemed advisable; it should provide for the making of suggestions to the Legislature from time to time for the improvement of the probation system, and for recommendations from time to time to public authorities, judicial and executive, concerned in the administration of probation; it should involve the promotion of probation work in those localities in which it is not availed of."
Following out this recommendation, central State supervision of probation was established in 1907 by the creation of the present State Probation Commission.
DUTIES OF THE COMMISSION The principal duties of the State Probation Commission as prescribed by law (section 30, chapter 54, Consolidated Laws, as amended by chapter 613, Laws of 1910) are as follows:
To meet at stated times, not less than once every two months;
To exercise general supervision over the work of probation officers throughout the State and to keep informed as to their work;
To inquire into the conduct and efficiency of probation officers from time to time;
To endeavor to secure the effective application of the probation system, and the enforcement of the probation law in all parts of the State;
To collect and publish statistical and other information and to make recommendations as to the operations of the probation system;
To inform all magistrates and probation officers of any legislation directly affecting probation, and to publish each year a list of all probation officers in the State;
To make an annual report to the Legislature showing the proceedings of the Commission, the results of the probation system as administered in the various parts of the State, with recommendations.
MEMBERS AND OFFICERS OF THE COMMISSION There has been one change in the personnel of the Commission during the past year. On July 14, 1915, Nicholas M. Peters ceased to be a member of the Commission following his retirement from the State Board of Charities, and Henry Marquand of Bedford Hills was designated by the State Board of Charities to fill the unexpired term. On January 5th Frank E. Wade of Buffalo was redesignated by the Commission of Prisons as a member of the Probation Commission for the ensuing year.
On January 20th, Commissioners Folks and Wade were re-elected as president and vice-president, respectively, for the ensuing year.