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Judiciary Praises Bill to Protect Probation Officers

Calling it a “modest but much-needed reform,” the chair of the Judicial Conference’s Criminal Law Committee has urged Congress to protect federal probation officers, by giving them the legal authority to give orders to, and arrest if needed, anyone obstructing them from performing their official duties.

The letter, written by Chief Judge Ricardo S. Martinez, of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington, noted that probation officers currently may arrest offenders they are supervising in the community, but they must summon local law enforcement if anyone else obstructs or threatens them.

“In the absence of other law enforcement officers acting in a supporting role, a probation officer who encounters a hostile or uncooperative third party – at an offender’s residence, for example – is obliged to retreat,” Martinez wrote. “This is not conducive to effective supervision or officer safety, and generally undermines the ability of probation officers to help rehabilitate offenders while protecting the public.” 

The Judicial Conference of the United States has sought third-party arrest authority, which Martinez noted is common for state and local supervision officers, since 2008. The letter was addressed to four Senate sponsors—Orrin Hatch, R-Utah; Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif.; Thom Tillis, R-N.C.; and Joe Manchin, D-W.Va.—and two House sponsors, Dave Reichert, R-Wash., and Bill Pascrell, D-N.J.

The legislation, called the Probation Officer Protection Act, is S. 367 and HR 1039. Information on the bill is available online

Related Topics: Probation and Pretrial Services