Reinventing Probation and Reducing Youth Violence

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The case I have chosen discusses a program in Boston called Operation Night Light. Operation Night Light was a project introduced in Boston in the early 1990’s, in response to an upswing in adolescent gang violence. Prior to this operation it was the standard for probation officers to essentially be 9 to 5ers, meeting their clients during the day, and hoping they were continuing to meet the terms of their probation by night (Corbett, 2002). Operation Night Light instituted a program where probation officers partner with Gang Unit police officers in order to attempt to reduce adolescent gang violence by working from within the communities they serve. The results of this operation were generally positive, although they can attribute some of the success to partnering with other programs to encourage non-delinquent behaviors. The Night Light program is a type of intensive supervision probation, that used home visits and curfews to encourage compliance (Alarid, 2017).


Operation Night Light is a program started in Boston, Massachusetts in 1993, in response to climbing rates of adolescent gang violence. This program introduced a brand new approach to handling youth probation cases. It was based on the idea that, “You can’t fight fires from the station house”. (Corbett, 2002, p. 112) Essentially, the program took the process of probation out of the office, and into the community. Operation Night Light was spurred on by the increase of gang violence, starting in the late 1980’s. Boston started seeing networks of gangs, who started the now widespread custom of naming themselves after their home turf (Corbett, 2002). The rate of violent crimes rose steeply, with Boston seeing 75 homicides in 1987 up to 152 homicides in 1990 (Corbett, 2002). With this increase in violent gang activity, the city also saw the introduction of crack/cocaine, as well as an increase of gun trafficking in order to supply the new influx of gangs.

Prior to Operation Night Light, probation officers would meet their clients, in their office during the day. Probation officers were wary of going into the communities where their clients live in the evenings. This new program introduced a partnership with Gang Unit police officers. These two branches of the criminal justice process were continually seeing the same offenders, going through different parts of the system, with no real communication between branches. With Night Light, a collaborative effort began, with the hope of increasing the effectiveness of probation. Probation officers began requesting that curfews and area restrictions be added to the terms of their clients probation (Corbett, 2002). Curfews had previously been used in terms of probation, but had proven difficult to enforce (Corbett, 2002). With this new program, probation officers partnered with gang unit officers, began conducting random home visits, as well as approaching probation subjects on the street. The purpose of this activity was to make their presence in the community known, in the hope that it would encourage probationers to adhere to the terms of their probation.

Every evening, teams of probation officers and gang unit officers visit the communities in which their clients live. Efforts are taken to avoid alarming anyone else in the household, and emphasis is placed on keeping the visits as friendly as possible (Corbett, 2002). The police provide security for probation officers to be able to travel into high crime neighborhoods safely, as probation officers are not armed. During the home visits, the officers check to see whether the offender is home as per the terms of their probation, as well as discuss the offender’s daily behavior with the family (Corbett, 2002). When offenders are aware that they may be caught breaking curfew during a home visit or by being seen on the streets, they may be more likely to try to meet their probation requirements.

An additional benefit to Operation Night Light is the increased communication between agencies. Before the project’s start, it was not standard procedure to engage in sharing of information between police and probation officers. In fact, that is generally the case in most jurisdictions (Corbett, 2002). With the increased dissemination of information between agencies, both are able to be more effective in their dealings with offenders. This communication benefits the police, because they have a greater awareness of offenders who are on probation, and their presence has a greater deterrent effect (Corbett, 2002). “Deterrence is achieved through incapacitating probationers by requiring that they avoid certain areas and also be in their homes at a reasonable hour…”(Corbett, 2002, p. 118). Probationers are more aware of the presence of both police officers and probation officers in their community, and that awareness can encourage them to stay home rather than get caught violating their probation.

Operation Night Light could not have been successful without also working with other, more treatment based programs. In order to keep offenders from returning to their previous delinquent behaviors, they need to be provided with an alternative, such as employment opportunities. Employment gives offenders something else to do besides reoffending. The city of Boston increased their summer jobs program in the early 1990’s, which gave way to the Summer of Opportunity (Corbett, 2002). This program had a success rate of about 90%, and those who completed the program were given part time jobs through the school year (Corbett, 2002). The Summer of Opportunity provided both job experience and life-skills. Another treatment geared program was the 10 Point Coalition, which was made up of inner city ministers focused on youth outreach in gang affected areas. This group formed as a response to a deadly shooting that took place in 1992 during a church service (Corbett, 2002). The addition of these services and outreach added to the effectiveness of the Night Light program, which by itself most likely would not have been as effective.

The effect Operation Night Light had on the community is clear, although again, it cannot be attributed to Night Light alone. In 6 years, Operation Night Light conducted more than 6,000 contacts, both in home and on the street, and saw reducing rates of violent crimes including homicide (Corbett, 2002). In 1993 there were 16 juvenile homicides whereas in 1997 there was 1 (Corbett, 2002). The largest benefit attributable to Operation Night Light are the relationships that were created between agencies and outreach groups, to continue the process of guiding young offenders to a better path. Additionally, Night Light gave newfound credibility to probation, whereas before it was more difficult to enforce (Corbett, 2002). Offenders are more likely to adhere to the terms of their probation when they believe their will be consequences if they are caught in violation of their probation. This program showed a different way to utilize probation, and inspired other agencies to consider using different methods as well.


Operation Night Light is a form of an intensive supervision probation program. Intensive supervision probation is defined in Community-Based Corrections as, “a form of probation that stresses intensive monitoring, close supervision and offender control.” (Alarid, 2017, p. 138) This program utilized close supervision, by both probation and police officers to encourage offenders to comply with the terms of their probation. In the case of Operation Night Light, this approach was successful, with the help from additional programs. Night Light is also a good example of a probation/police partnership, where both agencies work together in the supervision of offenders and agree to share information for their mutual benefit. (Alarid, 2017)

The method used by the officers in this project consisted home visits and an curfews, as well as utilizing treatment based programs. The purpose of the home visits was to limit opportunities for offenders to reoffend as well as gave the probation officers a chance to see if their client was complying with their probation (Alarid, 2017). Due to the curfew and potential for home visits, these juvenile offenders spent more time at home, and were less likely to violent their probation (Alarid, 2017). In a study done with two groups of juvenile probationers, it was shown that those who experienced home visits had lower recidivism rates. This showed that this higher level of supervision can have a beneficial effect on preventing juveniles from reoffending (Alarid, 2017).

Again, Operation Night Light could not have been as successful without the treatment programs that accompanied it, such as the Summer of Opportunity. “One of the important lessons learned early on was that increased community supervision without the use of treatment programs is not effective and does not necessarily promote a safer community (Alarid, 2017, p. 138)”. When offenders are not given a alternative to the criminal activities they were previously engaging in, they are likely to return to those activities. In the case of the Summer of Opportunity, youth who were involved with the program were given job training and life skills, an income, as well as something to do besides engaging in delinquent behavior.

Lastly, Operation Night Light demonstrated the theory of specific deterrence. This theory holds that an offender who experiences a higher level of community supervision will consider the cost of reoffending to be too high, and will avoid reoffending (Alarid, 2017). In increasing the presence of both probation and parole officers in the communities in which the offenders lived, the offenders were more likely to get caught if they were to violate their probation, and elected to comply instead. This change to more law abiding behavior demonstrates desistance, or the process by which offenders exchange “dysfunctional and criminal behaviors into new habits.” (Alarid, 2017, p. 354) The presence of law enforcement and probation officers in the community, as well as the support of job training and outreach programs are what made Operation Night Light


Boston’s Operation Night Light started a beneficial partnership between probation officers and Gang Unit police. The goal of the program was to bring probation from the office out into the community where probationers lived. It was geared towards adolescents involved in increasing gang activity in the area in the late 1980s and early 1990s (Corbett, 2002). They used home visits and curfews, paired with more officer presence within the community. Night Light’s approach to handling probationers was unique and innovative, and proved to be a success based on the reduction of violent crimes and homicides occurring in the area (Corbett, 2002). This program proved that a more involved probation program produces positive results.


  1. Alarid, L. F. (2017). Community-based corrections. Boston, MA: Cengage.
  2. Corbett, R. P., Jr. (2002). Reinventing Probation and Reducing Youth Violence – Boston’s Operation Night Light. In D. R. Karp & T. R. Clear (Eds.), What is Community Justice (pp. 111-134). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

Cite this paper

Reinventing Probation and Reducing Youth Violence. (2021, Dec 29). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/reinventing-probation-and-reducing-youth-violence/

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