Most conditional dispositions involve probation, which is the most frequently imposed sanction. Youth are placed on probation and required to comply with certain conditions for a specified period lasting from several months to a couple of years. The nature of the conditions to be fulfilled depends on the specific needs of the offender and the offense committed. If youth have alcohol or drug dependencies, they may be required to undergo individual or group counseling and some type of therapy to cope with substance abuse (McMorris et al., 2007). Juvenile court judges impose probation as a disposition more than any other sanction (Puzzanchera, Adams, and Sickmund, 2010).
Property offenders may be required to make restitution to victims or to compensate the court in some way for the damage they have caused (Jarjoura et al., 2008). In a growing number of jurisdictions, restorative justice is practiced, in which offenders and their victims are brought together for the purpose of mediation. Youth learn to accept responsibility for what they have done, and their accountability is heightened (Swanson, 2005). Many jurisdictions have gravitated toward a more balanced approach in sanctioning youth, where the emphasis is upon restorative and victim-centered justice. The aim of balanced and restorative justice is to (1) promote public safety and the protection of the community, (2) heighten accountability of youth toward victims and the community for offenses committed, and (3) increase competency and improve character development to assist youth in becoming responsible and productive members of society (Champion and Mays, 1991).
Offenders with behavioral disorders may require more intensive supervision while on probation (Abatiello, 2005). Those considered to be high risks for recidivism may be required to undergo electronic monitoring and house arrest as part of their supervision by juvenile probation officers. These and similar strategies are part of the growing area of community corrections and intermediate punishments, in which greater emphasis is placed upon community reintegration and rehabilitation (Rivers, 2005). During the 1990s, a gradual intensification of punishments for juveniles, including probation dispositions, occurred (Wilkerson, 2005). This emphasis on punishment is a reflection of state legislatures’ tougher stance toward juveniles.
The terms and conditions of the disposition are outlined by the judge and probation staff. Obeying the law, attending school, maintaining employment, reporting to the probation officer, attending vocational training or education courses, appearing at subsequent court hearings, avoiding the use of drugs and alcohol, and refraining from possessing dangerous weapons are standard probation conditions. Furthermore, the judge may include other conditions, such as mandatory counseling or therapy, depending upon the particular needs exhibited by the offender.
In terms of formal dispositions for delinquent youth, judges use probation most often for property offenses. In 2007, 35 percent of youth who were adjudicated delinquent for a property offense were placed on probation. However, from 1985 to 2007, the use of probation actually increased for the three other delinquent offense categories (person offenses, drug offenses, and public order offenses), and it decreased for property offenses (Puzzanchera, Adams, and Sickmund, 2010).