What is Shock Probation?

Sometimes just getting a taste of jail or prison can be enough to deter future criminal behavior. Courts hope that requiring (mostly young) offenders to spend a little bit of time behind bars can open their eyes to the consequences of crime. This is the fundamental purpose of shock probation.

What’s the Purpose of Shock Probation?

Shock probation has been used successfully across the nation for more than six decades. Early studies found that the rate of recidivism (or, committing crimes in the future) decreased when shock probation was used. The purpose of the program is to “shock” criminal offenders with a dose of reality about the consequences of their actions.

Rather than simply sentencing a defendant to a term of probation, the court requires that person to spend time behind bars. The hope is that the taking that defendant away from his or her family and requiring them to serve time in a real correctional facility will be a shock to the system. The shock would be a wake-up call that deters the defendant from ever engaging in criminal activity again. Shock probation is intended to work as a powerful deterrent and help (mostly young) defendants understand the consequences of crime.

When Is Shock Probation Used?

Shock probation is not the best method for punishing all defendants. Instead, shock probation is typically reserved for situations in which there’s a significant chance that the defendant can be rehabilitated. Shock probation is most commonly used in cases involving:

  • Juvenile offenders
  • Young offenders
  • First time offenders, and
  • Individuals arrested for relatively-minor crimes (e.g., some or theft drug offenses).

Remember, shock probation is a tool to deter future criminal behavior. It will only be used if the court believes that there is a real chance to rehabilitate and deter the defendant.

Shock Probation vs. Split Sentencing

Split sentencing has become incredibly popular in California. While shock probation and split sentencing are different, they do share many similarities.

Shock Probation: A defendant is sentenced to a full term of time behind bars for a crime. Once that defendant has served a relatively short period of time in lockup – typically 30, 60, or 90 days – they can file a petition for shock probation. The petition for shock probation is a request to release the defendant and permit them to fulfill the remainder of their sentence with supervised release (i.e. probation). If the petition is granted the defendant will be released from custody after serving a very small percentage of their sentence behind bars.

Split Sentencing: A defendant’s criminal sentence includes mandatory time behind bars – typically 30 to 90 days – followed by supervised release. However, the amount of time a defendant spends in jail is predetermined before they are sent to lockup. Once a defendant has completed the incarceration portion of his or her sentence they’re released on probation.

Shock probation requires a petition from the defendant. There’s no guarantee that probation will be granted. With split sentencing, however, a defendant knows that he or she will be released on probation after they’ve spent a certain amount of time behind bars.

Pros and Cons Of Shock Probation

Is shock probation a good rehabilitative tool? Some say yes. Others, however, believe that shock probation can do more harm than good, particularly when young offenders are involved.

Benefits of Shock Probation

Shock probation has been cheered by many for merging punitive and rehabilitative approaches in the criminal justice system. Some benefits of shock probation include:

  • Limiting the amount of time defendants spend behind bars for relatively minor crimes
  • Clearing local jails and prisons of non-violent and first-time offenders
  • Reserving lengthy terms of imprisonment for offenders who commit the most serious crimes, and
  • Detering young offenders from embracing a life of crime.

Potential Drawbacks of Shock Probation

Shock probation is not cheered by all. In fact, there are many critics who believe the penalty scheme does more to traumatize and punish young people who get caught up in criminal activity. Potential drawbacks of shock probation include:

  • Traumatizing young people by ripping them away from their families at a young age
  • Subjecting young people to traumatic conditions for committing relatively minor crimes, and
  • Exposing potentially-vulnerable young people to negative influences and figures, thereby increasing the risk of future criminal behavior.

Despite potential risks, many states still believe that shock probation and/or split sentencing are great ways to deter future criminal behavior.


Are you facing criminal charges in San Diego? A strong defense will impact the outcome of your criminal case. Contact the Law Office of Vikas Bajaj to speak with an experienced criminal defense lawyer immediately.


Shock Probation