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New National Supervision Policy Redirects Resources

A change in national policy will limit supervision of low-risk offenders in the federal system, redistributing scarce resources to supervise high-risk offenders.

The shift in supervision policy was approved by the Judicial Conference Committee on Criminal Law, after endorsement by an advisory group of Chief Probation and Pretrial Services Officers.

The change is backed by research indicating resources are best directed to moderate and high-risk cases, and it is also a response to budget cuts. Low-intensity supervision was introduced in 2004 as part of cost-containment efforts by the Judiciary. Limiting workload requirements on cases that present the least risk of harm to the community allows officers to better use finite resources.

Distribution of Offenders* by PCRA Risk-Level









*Based upon 82,078 active cases with a completed PCRA score as of May 2012.

As of May, 2012, U.S. probation officers actively supervised 133,179 post-conviction offenders, 40 percent of whom fall into the "low" risk category. Under the new policy, officers limit their engagement with low-risk offenders solely to those activities required by the court's sentencing order, although the policy does allow for the officer and supervisor to select a higher supervision level when appropriate.

The Office of Probation and Pretrial Services at the Administrative Office will continue to monitor supervision outcomes. Little or no change in recidivism rates is expected for low risk offenders, while increased efforts in moderate and high-risk cases should result in reduced risk of recidivism and/or earlier detection and interruption of non-compliant behavior.

To determine an offender's risk level, probation officers use Post-Conviction Risk Assessment (PCRA), which applies empirical weights to information on federal defendants and offenders. PCRA provides officers with a roadmap to supervision based on the risk and needs that each offender presents. Study has shown that federal probation officers made more consistent and more accurate assessments of offender risk when using the PCRA than when using unstructured clinical judgment.

Related Topics: Probation and Pretrial Services