Probation and Pretrial Services - Annual Report 2014
U.S. probation and pretrial services officers investigate and supervise persons charged with or convicted of federal crimes, while safeguarding the community and bringing about long-term positive changes in individuals under supervision
Preparing for Impact of Criminal Justice Reforms
The 2014 decision by the U.S. Sentencing Commission to apply retroactively the amendment reducing the offense levels in the Drug Quantity Table by two levels also delayed until on or after November 1, 2015 the release of inmates granted a custody term reduction as a result of the application of the amendment. The Judicial Conference Criminal Law Committee recommended the delay in anticipation of the increased workload the decision will place on judges, chambers staff, and federal public defender offices – but especially probation officers.
The Commission has projected that 46,376 inmates in BOP custody will be eligible to petition for a reduction of their sentence. However, it is anticipated that between 10 and 20 percent more inmates will submit petitions, pushing the totals well beyond 50,000 cases.
Probation offices will be tasked with preparing retroactive resentencing reports for the courts and then supervising any inmates who have been released after having their sentences reduced. In fiscal year 2015, most of the work will be related to preparing the retroactive resentencing reports. These reports consist of recalculating the offense level, investigating the inmate’s progress and behavior while in custody, assessing whether an inmate has a viable release plan and, if necessary, recommending any new conditions of supervision – such as placement in a halfway house or in-home confinement – that may be needed to promote successful reentry.
Based on the Commission’s projections, AO staff has determined that additional probation officers will be needed to manage this increase in workload.
In 2014, improved training materials, new officer support materials such as Skill Cards, and “Train the Trainers” sessions were developed for the Staff Training Aimed at Reducing Rearrest (STARR) program. The Federal Judicial Center also announced it will incorporate STARR into future supervisors training programs, and STARR skills have been incorporated into officers’ initial training at the AO’s National Training Academy.
To date, nearly 900 probation and pretrial officers have been trained in STARR, with roughly 167 classified as coaches. In September 2014, STARR coaches met in Washington, D.C., to share challenges, successes, and ideas on implementation, and also to meet with leading academicians and practitioners from across the country and Canada.
Post-Conviction Risk Assessments (PCRA)
Post-Conviction Risk Assessment (PCRA) reviews are performed initially at the start of the supervision term, with reassessments conducted periodically thereafter. The empirically based reassessments mean that changes in offenders’ risk levels and criminogenic needs can be better identified, prioritized, and quantified with measures of progress.
Work is underway to help officers better predict recidivism among offenders under supervision using PCRA. Efforts include:
- Tracking of approximately 21,000 offenders placed on supervision between May 2001 and December 2011 to investigate the changing risk and needs profile of federal offenders. The results, published in the September 2014 Federal Probation, reinforce the importance of using STARR techniques during officer interactions with offenders, particularly those in the higher-risk categories, where the techniques have been effective in reducing criminal thinking patterns.
- Supplemental assessments to the PCRA, now being developed, will help predict not just whether a person recidivates generally but whether a person is more likely to commit specific types of offenses. For instance, offender data will be examined for those factors demonstrated by research to be correlated with higher probabilities of violent offending. The goal is to identify “signals” that predate the violent behavior.
- A collaboration with the United States Marshals Service will develop a risk-assessment tool to identify which child pornography offenders are at greater risk for future child pornography viewing or sexual contact offenses.
Supervision During Disasters
In 2014, three districts began a pilot of the web-based Client Electronic Notification System (CENS) that will help probation and pretrial services officers maintain contact with offenders and defendants under supervision. CENS pulls phone numbers and email addresses from the Probation/Pretrial Automated Case Tracking System (PACTS) database, and delivers a message by voice or email to individuals, groups, or entire caseloads. The Middle District of Florida, the Eastern District of Louisiana, and the District of New Jersey were the initial pilot courts, all of which have experienced natural disasters that have disrupted normal lines of communication. CENS provides an emergency broadcasting network style of communication that helps officers reach out, safeguarding the public, when entire communities are displaced.