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Probation and Pretrial Services - Mission

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Our Mission

  • To assist the federal courts in the fair administration of justice.
  • To protect the community.
  • To bring about long-term positive change in individuals under supervision.
  • Charter for Excellence (pdf)

Who We Are

The U.S. Probation and Pretrial Services System is

  • the community corrections arm of the federal judiciary.
  • part of the U.S. district courts.
  • a key player in the federal criminal justice process at both the pretrial and post-conviction stages.
  • a national system of employees, who include probation and pretrial services officers and officer assistants; information technology, budget, and human resources professionals; and support staff.
  • a national system with a shared mission, professional identity, goals, and values.

What We Do

U.S. probation and pretrial services officers, considered the "eyes and ears" of the federal courts, investigate and supervise persons charged with or convicted of federal crimes. Officers

  • gather and verify information about persons who come before the courts.
  • prepare reports that the courts rely on to make release and sentencing decisions.
  • supervise persons released to the community by the courts and paroling authorities.
  • direct persons under supervision to services to help them stay on the right side of the law, including substance abuse treatment, mental health treatment, medical care, training, and employment assistance.

  • How We're Organized and Managed

In the U.S. Probation and Pretrial Services System, management is local, while oversight and support are national.

  • Locations. U.S. probation and pretrial services offices are located in 93 of the 94 U.S. district courts, which include the U.S. territories. (Probation and pretrial services for the District of the Northern Mariana Islands are provided by the District of Guam.)
  • Organization. In some districts, probation and pretrial services are separate offices. In other districts, probation and pretrial services are combined in one office. The choice is up to the individual districts.
  • Management. In each district, management of probation and pretrial services is in the hands of chief probation and pretrial services officers, who are directly responsible to the courts they serve. Chiefs do their own hiring, manage their own budgets, and decide how to run their offices.
  • National oversight. The Criminal Law Committee of the Judicial Conference of the United States oversees the U.S. Probation and Pretrial Services System. The Committee addresses such matters as the system's operations, workload, funding, and resources, as well as employment standards for system employees and issues pertaining to the administration of criminal law.
  • National support. The Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts carries out the Judicial Conference's policies and provides the courts with a broad range of administrative, management, and program support. The Administrative Office Director has delegated to the Office of Probation and Pretrial Services the responsibility to support the probation and pretrial services system, including developing system policies, supporting system programs, and reviewing the work of probation and pretrial services offices.
  • How We Differ District to District

U.S. probation and pretrial services officers share a mission and operate under the same policies and procedures. Nonetheless, some aspects of the work and how it's carried out differ district to district.

  • Number of officers. Just because a district is geographically large does not mean it has more probation and pretrial services officers. The number of officers on board in each district depends on the district's workload.
  • Workload. Officer workload is not the same in every district. Sometimes efforts on the part of law enforcement—the Department of Justice—generate increases in arrests; for instance, for drug and immigration crimes. Such action can dramatically increase criminal filings in a given district and impact the workload of judges and officers alike.
  • Rural/urban differences. Working as a probation or pretrial services officer in a big city is considerably different than doing that same job in a rural or sparsely populated area. Officers working in less populated areas sometimes must travel long distances to fulfill their supervision responsibilities. They may have access to fewer resources than their urban counterparts do, especially for substance abuse or mental health treatment or employment assistance. On the other hand, officers in metropolitan areas often must carry out their supervision duties in high-crime areas.
  • How We Work With Federal Agencies

Many federal agencies play a part in the justice process. Working in partnership with these agencies helps U.S. probation and pretrial services officers serve the court and protect the community. Here are some of the agencies officers work with and some of the areas in which they collaborate:

Sentencing

Probation officers, in preparing presentence investigation reports, recommend sentences based on sentencing guidelines set by the Commission.

Investigation

Probation and pretrial services officers use databases maintained by other federal agencies in investigating criminal backgrounds.

Community Supervision

Probation officers supervise or monitor persons who, after serving time in prison, are released to the community by these authorities.

Help for Persons Under Supervision

Probation and pretrial services officers look to federal agencies for resources and information when they direct persons under supervision to services to help them.

Crime Prevention

Probation and pretrial services officers serve on task forces and share information with other federal agencies to fight crime, including terrorism and drug, gang, and computer crime.

  • How We Compare to State/Local Community Corrections

Across the United States, you'll find community corrections professionals at all levels of government-federal, state, county, and municipal. Whether you call them probation officers, parole agents, or community supervision officers, they play a similar role in the communities in which they work. Federal probation officers are like their state/local counterparts in many ways, but they're also different. Here are a few examples.

How are they alike? How are they different?

A Dual Role

Community corrections professionals, whether at the federal or state/local level, play a dual role, part law enforcement and part social work. Officers monitor the behavior and activities of persons under supervision to make sure they don't commit further crime. They also refer these individuals to treatment, education, employment, and other services that can help them achieve a crime-free life. Different community corrections agencies in different jurisdictions may emphasize one role or the other, but they all share the same basic mission: to promote public safety by motivating persons under supervision to stay on the right side of the law.

Branch of Government

Executive branch or judicial branch? At the federal level, probation is under the judicial branch. Officers work in several hundred offices located in the 94 federal judicial districts nationwide. The officers serve the courts. They provide judges with information they need to make decisions and protect the community by enforcing court orders. Therefore, federal probation, with its close relationship to the courts and an emphasis on providing treatment to offenders and motivating them to change, is separate from executive branch entities that focus on apprehending and prosecuting offenders. At the state and local levels, probation often is a function of the executive branch. Its placement varies jurisdiction to jurisdiction. Sometimes it's a component of the department of corrections, along with prisons, or it may operate as an independent agency.

Part of the Justice Process

Community corrections at every level of government is part of a process: the justice process. This is a process that begins with an arrest and continues in court. It may include a prison term followed by release to the community on supervision. The officers who provide community supervision are key players in the justice process, but they don't work alone. They collaborate with or support the work of others, such as attorneys, judges, police, and prison officials.

Officer Training

Like their colleagues in state/local levels of government, federal probation officers learn about their duties and how to carry them out through on-the-job training in their districts. However, federal probation officers also receive national training. Officers receive training on their core responsibilities and on firearms and safety at a national new officer training program held at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center in Charleston, South Carolina. They also benefit from training offered by the Federal Judicial Center, which develops education and training programs for all federal court employees. The Center offers seminars and workshops, in-person and on-line conferences, satellite TV broadcasts, and leadership and new supervisor programs geared especially for officers.

Specialized Caseloads

At both the federal and state/local levels, certain categories of crime and criminals have generated a need for specialized caseloads. Substance abusers, the mentally ill, and gang members are among the special groups that present unique challenges to the officers who are charged with supervising them. Officers who are assigned specialized caseloads may handle smaller caseloads, provide more intensive monitoring, and receive special training to manage the needs of these individuals and any threat they pose to the public.

Permission to Carry Firearms

Federal probation officers are authorized by law to carry firearms. Each individual district court decides whether its officers will be armed or not. If a district permits carrying firearms, it's each officer's choice whether to do so or not. Therefore, some federal probation officers do carry firearms, and some do not. For some officers at the state/local level, carrying firearms is optional; for others, it's mandatory; and for still others, it's not allowed. In some state/local agencies, only officers in specific positions–such as officers who deal with violent offenders--are permitted to carry firearms.

Community Partners

Officers–no matter at which level of government they work-- must know their communities and operate effectively within them. An important part of their work is directing persons under their supervision to services to help them. Officers build partnerships with community resources that provide these services, which include substance abuse and mental health treatment, medical care, education and training, and employment assistance.