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Probation and Pretrial Services

In fiscal year 2013, the Office of Probation and Pretrial Services continued its focus on developing empirical tools to assess criminogenic risk;  training programs to enhance officers ability to reduce offenders criminogenic risk levels, and outcome measurement efforts to determine if intervention programs are having the desired effect.

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Probation and pretrial services officers annually report more than 1,000 search and seizure incidents, not counting enforcement of computer monitoring conditions for child pornography offenders.

Probation and pretrial services officers annually report more than 1,000 search and seizure incidents, not counting enforcement of computer monitoring conditions for child pornography offenders.

Risk Assessment Development Continues

The development and use of empirical risk assessment devices in pretrial services and post-conviction supervision continued in FY 2013. An AO study validated, for the second time, the predictive power of the Pretrial Risk Assessment (PTRA) instrument in estimating re-arrest and failure-to-appear rates among federal defendants. The study also determined that a series of test questions in the PTRA did not enhance the instrument's overall predictive power. As a result, the PTRA scoring sheets were modified to remove the test questions and to save officers time and effort.

The Post-Conviction Risk Assessment (PCRA) instrument is reaching full implementation, with more than 300,000 PCRA assessments completed to date and 90 percent of active cases having a valid PCRA assessment score. The minority of cases without a PCRA score simply have not been on supervision long enough to complete the assessment process. The PCRA is helping probation officers prioritize their caseloads, develop case plans, and design intervention strategies to protect the community and facilitate offender rehabilitation. In the near future, the AO will undertake a revalidation study of the PCRA and introduce specialized risk assessment trailers for violent and child-pornography offenders, with the latter trailer being developed in collaboration with the U.S. Marshals' Sex Offender Targeting Center.

Continued Expansion of Staff Training Aimed at Reducing Re-Arrest (STARR)

Research has shown that probation officers utilizing “core correctional practices” are successful at reducing recidivism. Core correctional practices include the probation officer modeling pro-social behavior for the offender, invoking offender self-motivation to remain law abiding, using authority to effectively reward positive behavior and discourage criminal behavior, and teaching the offender social-functioning skills—particularly in the area of  problem solving. The STARR program was developed by the AO to formally incorporate core correction practices into the federal supervision program and involves a three-day orientation, self-study, and periodic booster sessions with a district-based coach. Initial research confirmed that STARR training enhances officers’ ability to reduce recidivism. In 2013, STARR training was provided to select officers from 26 districts, bringing the total number of districts with STARR trained officers to 66.

Outcome Measurement and Research Informs Supervision Decisions

The AO continues its long-term effort to monitor program outcomes and to use data to inform decision-making. As part of this effort, the AO has assembled an "analysis file" that matches Judiciary data on persons on post-conviction supervision with data held by other federal agencies. With that data, the AO has been able to conduct trend analysis on offender recidivism rates on a scale previously unheard of in criminal justice. Its value was demonstrated this past year when the AO studied the impact of the Judiciary's early termination policy, which allows persons to be discharged early from probation, or supervised release if they are no longer a threat to the community and met other criteria. The analysis file data showed that persons granted earlier termination were re-arrested at half the rate of other federal offenders with the same general characteristics, but who were not granted earlier termination—an outcome that supports continued use of the Judiciary's early termination policy. In 2013, the AO awarded a contract to enhance and improve the analysis file, with the future focus to be in the areas of pretrial services and addition of fine and restitution data.

National Search and Seizure Training Program in 71 Districts

Since the first Search and Seizure Training Program was offered in April 2011, the AO Office of Probation and Pretrial Services’ National Training Academy has trained 199 officers from 71 districts. Developed in 2011, this intensive two-week “train-the-trainer” program equips participants to train and certify instructors and other search-team members on compliance with the Judicial Conference’s search and seizure guidelines for probation officers. The curriculum includes: an overview of national policy and related legal principles; plain-view seizure; safety guidelines; restraints; evidence handling, storage, and disposal; and reporting requirements in the Safety and Information Reporting System. Students are tested in writing and through practical exercises. Probation and pretrial services officers annually report more than 1,000 search and seizure incidents, not counting enforcement of computer monitoring conditions for child pornography offenders.

Cybercrime Working Group Introduced

The newly formed Cybercrime Working Group met for the first time in 2013. The group discussed recommendations for policy and procedures, ways to collect data on computer searches and computer monitoring, and the development of cybercrime specialist positions in probation and pretrial services offices nationwide.

Generation 3 of Probation and Pretrial Services Automated Case Tracking System (PACTS)

The third generation of PACTS software was released in fiscal year 2013. The upgraded case management system, used by U.S. Probation and Pretrial Services offices, includes an improved user interface and consolidates over three million current and historical defendant/offender case records into a single database. The single database approach requires less administrative overhead, allowing limited resources to focus on improved functionality.

PACTS Generation 3 also introduced a service-oriented architecture that promotes greater integration of national, local, and external systems through the use of secure web services. Web services allow Court IT professionals to better collaborate, integrate, and share case data. The latest version of PACTS also includes a new suite of reporting features, such as client mapping, utilizing the Decision Support System. The single database concept also allows case data to be more easily transferred to and from jurisdictions, a feature introduced in the latest generation of PACTS.