In 1841 in Boston, Massachusetts a shoemaker named John Augustus offered to help the court in assisting drunks, vagrants and petty thieves to better themselves.
According to the Harvard Law School Archives, Augustus asked the judge to put a common drunkard in his care. When he returned to Court after a period on probation, no one, not even the scrutinizing officers would have believed he was the same person.
Thus was born the American Probation System. The word probation comes from the Latin verb probare that means test or prove and the Latin noun probatio meaning trial on approval. Essentially it means a suspension of the sentence, release on conditional behavior and supervision and control by an agent of the court.
Mr. Augustus and his many followers were unpaid until 1878 when the Boston courts enacted an ordinance that became MA state law in 1891.
In 1903, California legislatures directed the courts to appoint probation officers and to create a separate court for juveniles.
Alameda County's first unofficial probation officer was Anita Whitney, herself in front of the court for "some difficulty". Unpaid, she spent a few months caring for court probationers.
The first official paid Probation Officer was a young attorney named Ezra Decoto. He went on to become a Superior Court Judge. For $50.00 a month, "he would visit the courts twice a week and do what he could toward securing probation in some cases."
Mr. Decoto's first Probation Annual Report said, "113 juveniles cases had been placed in his charge, and 45 cases of culprits over 16 years of age. Of these, only 5 had been unworthy of the trust reposed in them and had been sent to prison."
In 1907 Christopher Ruiz, a Deputy Probation Officer, became the Probation Officer with an office in the Court House at 4th and Broadway. In 1916, Oliver Snedigar became the Department Chief until 1953, when Lorenzo Buckley became Chief.
From that time until the present, we have had 10 Chief Probation Officers and grown from the first 113 juvenile offenders to over 1,800 wards, over 11,000 adult probationers and a department of 655 employees, over 490 of them sworn peace officers.