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Parole in the Federal Probation System
(click to enlarge)
Parole may seem like an anachronism
in the federal justice system.
After all, under the Sentencing
Reform Act, federal civilian defendants
sentenced for offenses committed after
November 1, 1987, would no longer be
eligible for parole. But two decades later,
offenders under the jurisdiction of the
Parole Commission are frequently placed
under the supervision of federal probation
officers. The Parole Commission remains
active and, as recently as 2002, federal
legislation continued to add to its responsibilities.
Why is this the case?
The answer is parole is still with us in
four different forms.
First, there are the offenders who
committed their crimes prior to the
effective date of the Sentencing Reform
Act in 1987. Nationwide they currently
number 1,992. These remaining offenders
are serving long prison terms for serious,
often violent offenses. Typically, they
are older, with an average age of 47,
compared to the average age of 38 for
other offenders under supervision. They’re
also more at risk to recidivate, with a Risk
Prediction Index score of 3.97, higher than
the overall RPI average of 3.57.
“We provide the same
services and utilize the same
strategies for both
U.S. district court cases and
D.C. Code cases.”
Deputy Chief Probation Officer
In addition to offenders who
committed federal crimes prior to 1987,
there is a second group of offenders on
federal parole—those who violated the
laws of the District of Columbia.
When the National Capital
Revitalization and Self-Government
Improvement Act of 1997 abolished the
District of Columbia Board of Parole, its
responsibilities were transferred to the
U.S. Parole Commission. By 2000, the
Parole Commission had assumed jurisdiction
over parole and mandatory
release supervision and revocation
decisions for all persons serving D.C.
Code felony sentences. For parolees
within the District of Columbia, the Court
Services and Offender Supervision Agency
“But U.S. probation officers are responsible
for supervising D. C. Code offenders
who are released to districts outside of the
D.C. metropolitan area or who are serving
dual U.S. district court and D.C. Code
sentences,” said Madeline Gill, Assistant
Deputy Chief Probation Officer in the
District of Maryland.
Because of their proximity to the
District of Columbia, the District of
Maryland and the Eastern District of
Virginia supervise D.C. Code offenders.
The U.S. Probation Office for the District
of Maryland currently supervises over 500
D. C. Code offenders.
“We provide the same services and
utilize the same strategies for both
U.S. district court cases and D.C. Code
cases,” said Karen Sellinger, Deputy Chief
Probation Officer, District of Maryland.
“The conditions of parole are set by
the Parole Commission. But the goals
of supervision are the same for all
offenders on probation or on parole: to
manage risk, address needs, and provide
offenders with the tools and services
they need to be successful on supervision
and beyond.” The difference lies
in how parole violations are handled. If
an offender was sentenced in U.S. district
court, the sentencing judge would
be notified. For offenders on parole,
however, the U.S. Parole Commission has
the authority in the case. Requests for
modifications of conditions also go to
A third group of offenders on
parole are military offenders. Servicemembers
who have been convicted
within the military criminal justice
system and who have been confined
in military prison are routinely released
to parole and supervised release.
Nationwide, federal probation officers
supervise nearly 350 persons on
The Department of Defense
confinement facility, the appropriate
Clemency and Parole Board (each
branch of the military has its board),
and the supervising probation officer
coordinate a military offender’s reentry
into the community, anticipating any
treatment or special needs, such as
serious medical or mental health conditions
or lack of residence. Release
planning takes place in the district where
the offender has the higher possibility of
complete and productive reintegration
into the community.
Finally, probation offices work with the
U.S. Parole Commission in foreign transfer
treaty cases, an area where, since 2002,
the Commission has had responsibility for
making prison-term decisions for offenses
committed on or after November 1, 1987.
(See April 2011 Third Branch, “International
Prisoner Transfer Program Brings
U.S. Citizens Home.)