Chapter 2: Answering Truthfully Probation Officer’s Questions (Probation and Supervised Release Conditions)
A. Statutory Authority
Under 18 U.S.C. § 3563(b)(17), the court may provide that the defendant “answer inquiries by a probation officer.”
B. Standard Condition Language
You must answer truthfully the questions asked by your probation officer.
- This condition serves the statutory sentencing purposes of public protection and rehabilitation. 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a)(2)(C) and (D).
- This condition enables the probation officer to satisfy the statutory requirements to keep informed of the conduct and condition of the defendant, report the defendant’s conduct and condition to the sentencing court, and aid the defendant and bring about improvements in his or her conduct and condition. 18 U.S.C. §§ 3603(2)-(4).
- The purpose of this condition is to build positive rapport and facilitate an open and honest discussion between the probation officer and the defendant. Complete and accurate information about the nature and circumstances of the offense and the history and characteristics of the defendant is necessary to implement effective supervision practices. This condition also promotes the safety of the probation officer by notifying him or her of possible safety threats (e.g., weapons or other occupants in the defendant’s home with a history of violence). The probation officer attempts to develop and maintain a positive relationship with the defendant through transparent communication and the implementation of core correctional practices (e.g., active listening, development of problem-solving skills, and effective reinforcement).
This condition allows the probation officer to implement supervision methods demonstrated by social science to be effective at achieving positive outcomes.
- Research suggests that correctional interventions that follow the principles of evidence-based practices (e.g., the risk principle, the need principle, and the responsivity principle) promote positive change in the defendant and reduce the probability of recidivism. Without complete and accurate information about the nature and circumstances of the offense and the history and characteristics of the defendant, the probation officer cannot effectively assess the risk level of the defendant, identify criminogenic needs to address, and implement supervision practices that are responsive to the learning style and abilities of the defendant and demonstrated to alter thinking patterns (see: Chapter 1, Section III(A)(1)).
- Research suggests that exposure to antisocial associates increases the probability of recidivism. Without complete and accurate information about the nature and circumstances of the offense and the history and characteristics of the defendant, probation officers cannot implement strategies to reduce antisocial associations (see: Chapter 1, Section III(A)(2)).
- Research suggests that the probability of recidivism is reduced when defendants develop and maintain prosocial bonds to family, school, and work. Without complete and accurate information about the nature and circumstances of the offense and the history and characteristics of the defendant, probation officers cannot implement strategies to assist with the development and maintenance of prosocial bonds (see: Chapter 1, Section III(A)(3)).
- Research suggests that for a criminal event to occur there must be an opportunity to commit a crime. Probation officers may work with defendants on supervision, family members, neighbors, other community members, and law enforcement agencies to structure and monitor the defendant’s routine activities and reduce the extent to which defendants come into contact with criminal opportunities. Probation officers may also monitor defendants through contacts with the defendant and his or her social network, verifying employment, restricting travel, and providing positive reinforcement for prosocial routine activities. Without complete and accurate information about the nature and circumstances of the offense and the history and characteristics of the defendant, probation officers cannot implement supervision strategies to reduce criminal opportunities (see: Chapter 1, Section III(A)(4)).
D. Method of Implementation
- The initial interview with the defendant is focused on orienting the defendant to the supervision process, establishing rapport with the defendant, exploring the defendant’s goals, establishing initial expectations regarding the defendant’s conduct and responsibilities, and developing supervision objectives.
- Through the initial interview and follow-up interviews, the probation officer identifies other members of the defendant’s social network who should be interviewed and, as appropriate, enlisted as partners in the supervision process. Family members, friends, and other people who are important to the defendant can be ongoing sources of information for probation officers on emerging risk issues and can support the defendant in accomplishing supervision objectives.
- Through follow-up interviews with the defendant, probation officers gain additional knowledge about the level and type of supervision required to facilitate desired outcomes. Often, what probation officers learn in the process will require them to arrange additional meetings with the defendant to review the information, discuss objectives that may differ from those explored at the initial interview, and/or provide more detail on the specific requirements of certain conditions. Follow-up interviews also provide additional opportunities to discuss obstacles to desired outcomes and ways of addressing them and to provide information about what can be expected (and when) in terms of positive incentives for progress and disincentives for lack of progress.
- Probation officers are to respond immediately to indications of heightened risk by formulating strategies designed to prevent or ameliorate the effects of behavior that is not in compliance with the conditions of supervision. Among the early warning signs that a defendant may be at risk to recidivate are that the defendant is evasive or not truthful.
- Under Judicial Conference policy, if the defendant refuses to answer a specific question during an interview on the grounds that it is incriminating, the probation officer may not compel (e.g., through threat of revocation) the defendant to answer the question. If there is uncertainty about whether the invocation of the privilege against self-incrimination is valid (i.e., whether the specific question may lead to a realistic chance of incrimination), the probation officer should refer the matter to the court to make this determination.1
1 See also David N. Adair, Jr., “The Privilege Against Self-Incrimination and Supervision,” Federal Probation (June 1999); Stephen E. Vance, “Looking at the Law: An Updated Look at the Privilege Against Self-Incrimination in Post-Conviction Supervision,” Federal Probation (June 2011).