How To Avoid Common Pitfalls While On Probation: Part 2

How To Avoid Common Pitfalls While On Probation: Part 2

In Part I of this series, we focused on the four most common pitfalls people run into on probation:

  • know what you’re getting into on probation,
  • take time to read your judgment of sentence and probation order,
  • get to know your probation officer and earn their trust and respect and
  • report changes in your residence and employment immediately.

In Part II of this series, we’ll focus on five more pitfalls that people frequently run into while on probation, parole or supervised release

Tip #5: Pay Outstanding Fines and Restitution on Time 

Probation officers monitor a person’s payment of outstanding fines and restitution in cases where it applies. Missing required payments is a red flag that you should try to avoid. 

When circumstances prevent you from keeping up with court-ordered payments, you should discuss them with your probation officer as soon as possible. But never ignore them. Probation is a period to show the court that you are ready to live as a law-abiding, contributing member of society. Paying any outstanding court debts is part of that.

Also, failing to pay can result in a probation violation when the court has ordered restitution or fines.

People on probation can be supervised in other states but they must meet certain requirements.
Image courtesy of Supersmario via

Tip #6: Report Regularly to Probation as Instructed

Different probation officers will require that people report at different intervals in multiple ways. Nowadays, many people report virtually instead of in person. Others still report in person. Some people in the federal system report electronically only. Be sure to know how you are required to report and follow the schedule given to the best of your ability.

Reporting to probation should be one of your top priorities during this time. If you cannot make a meeting with your probation officer, be sure to alert them at your earliest available opportunity. Not hearing from you is bound to make them antsy. Missing an electronic reporting deadline or a virtual meeting without sending an explanation to your probation officer is also undesirable. It shows a lack of responsibility.

Always try to communicate issues in advance. Be proactive. Make their job of monitoring you easier, not harder. 

Tip #7: Complete and Record Community Service Hours

If community service hours are part of your judgment, you must meticulously document your hours. The nonprofit organization where you perform your community service should also keep track to back up your records.

In most cases, the nonprofit organization will prepare a letter verifying your community service hours for the sentencing court. If you perform community service at more than one nonprofit organization, each organization will likely have to provide a letter to the sentencing court verifying your community service. 

Failing a drug test will show you what happens if you violate parole.

Tip #8: Report, Don’t Hide, Contacts With Law Enforcement 

As to any contact with law enforcement while on probation, the best practice is to mention it to your probation officer as soon as possible — no ifs, ands or buts. 

The rule in many federal districts is that all contact with law enforcement must be reported to the probation office within 72 hours, even for routine traffic matters. Some probation officers are even more demanding. They tell the people they supervise that they want to hear about law enforcement encounters even when their client was merely a passenger in a car where the driver did not even get a ticket.

Failure to report contact with law enforcement is a violation of probation. Probation officers are alerted when you get pulled over and even when police scan your license plates. While it may be tempting to try to decipher whether your probation officer will find out if you had an encounter with law enforcement or not, most people who have been through this process suggest that being upfront is the best policy. Regardless of the circumstances, failing to report this will hurt your credibility, if not worse.

Image courtesy of Jeanette Fellows via

Tip #9: Keep Doing Mental Health Treatment and Drug Counseling

If mental health treatment or drug counseling are conditions of your probation, failing to attend is a probation violation. Keep up with your appointments. If you have to miss a session, reschedule it promptly and inform your probation officer immediately. These conditions are usually court-ordered ones and should be taken very seriously. 

On a related note, it is wise to avoid alcohol abuse. In fact, avoiding excessive use of alcohol is often a stated condition of probation. It is also a good idea to report all prescribed medications to your probation officer unless told otherwise. Otherwise, alcohol and drug use can become pitfalls to your time on probation too.

Stay tuned for Part III next Monday. To read Part II, click here.

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