The Changing Face of Probation: The Social Media Effect

Emerging technology and the rapid rise of social media have greatly improved the way probation officers perform their jobs, allowing them to keep tabs on offenders better than ever before.

Is it a secret weapon for probation officers? Perhaps. But technology – in particular, social media – is helping probation officers across the country supervise offenders with just a few strokes of the keyboard.

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The World of Social Media: A Treasure Trove of Information

Social media sites, like Facebook and Twitter, can provide probation officers with a wealth of information on the whereabouts and activity of the offenders they supervise. Although there have been concerns raised by some groups, including the NAACP, whether scanning social media websites to glean information for probationary purposes is ethical, the truth is that many offenders knowingly – or even brazenly – post information online that is in direct conflict with the conditions of their probation.

Probation officers, however, often need to take the information found online with a grain of salt, as an offender bragging about doing drugs online certainly doesn’t mean he’s actually doing drugs. Offenders may post information that is nothing more than unfounded bragging, so probation officers cannot necessarily act on information they find on social media sites and must exercise caution with the information they obtain.

Tracking Down Probation Violators

Many times, probation violators are tracked down using social media sites, with probation officers able to track their moves based on new Facebook friends or tweets. Social media is becoming another tool in the probation officer’s toolbox, particularly for juvenile probation officers, as teens tend to carelessly post pictures of themselves using alcohol or drugs.

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Other forms of technology that continue to aid probation officers is GPS monitoring systems and specialized computer software that allows them to monitor the computer activities of offenders.