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May 2011

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This article is in the news archives --- for current news go to the Third Branch News.


Parole in the Federal Probation System

(click to enlarge)

Post-Conviction Supervision as of September 30, 2010

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.”

Karen Sellinger,
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 provides supervision.

“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 the Commission.

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 military parole.

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.)