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Rise in Numbers of Serious Offenders Takes Toll on Supervision Resources

Since 2003, the number of offenders in the top two criminal history categories under the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines (pdf) has increased nearly 20 percent.

Offenders in Criminal History Category V and VI under the Guidelines have more—and more severe— prior convictions. They require closer supervision by federal probation officers to protect the community at a time when probation and pretrial services staffing in the federal Judiciary has declined 5 percent. Pressure on existing resources also has increased as overall post-conviction caseloads have risen 19 percent over the last decade.

The Criminal History Category represents both the number of prior convictions as well as the seriousness of a defendant's prior record. Defendants in the lowest two Categories, I or II, may have no prior convictions or have convictions for a few, less serious offenses. Defendants in Categories V and VI, however, may have extensive prior records, which often include convictions for more serious offenses, resulting in longer periods of imprisonment. Categories V and VI include career criminals and armed career criminals, who have multiple prior convictions for drug trafficking offenses or crimes of violence. Since 2003, offenders designated “career criminals” under the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines have increased by nearly a third, from 2,174 in 2003 to 2,850 in 2013.

Over the last decade, the prevalence of mental health and substance abuse problems of the overall offender population also has increased, increasing the strain on resources. Offenders in all criminal history categories with mental health treatment conditions imposed by the court increased 60 percent going from 20,699 to 33,098, while offenders with substance abuse treatment conditions imposed by the court increased by a third, from 60,024 to 80,119. Meanwhile, the number of offenders on supervision meeting the operation definition of “sex offender” more than tripled in the same time period, going from 2,605 to 8,433.

Related Topics: Probation and Pretrial Services, U.S. Sentencing Commission