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Chapter 2: Visits by Probation Officer (Probation and Supervised Release Conditions)

A. Statutory Authority

Under 18 U.S.C. § 3563(b)(16), the court may provide that the defendant “permit a probation officer to visit him at his home or elsewhere as specified by the court.”

B. Standard Condition Language

You must allow the probation officer to visit you at any time at your home or elsewhere, and you must permit the probation officer to take any items prohibited by the conditions of your supervision that he or she observes in plain view.

C. Purpose

  1. This condition serves the statutory sentencing purposes of public protection and rehabilitation. 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a)(2)(C) and (D).
  2. 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)-(3).
  3. This condition allows the probation officer to implement effective supervision strategies by making the probation officer aware of the defendant’s living environment, standard of living, and ability to pay criminal debt; by facilitating the development of rapport with the defendant’s family members, friends, and other members of the defendant’s support network; and by providing an environment that may in some cases be more conducive to open and honest communication than the probation office.
  4. This condition allows the probation officer to implement supervision methods demonstrated by social science to be effective at achieving positive outcomes.
    1. 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. Allowing officers to visit the home, work, and the community permits them to be aware of the defendant’s risk level and criminogenic needs throughout the period of supervision and to implement supervision practices that are responsive to the learning style and abilities of the individual defendant and are demonstrated to alter thinking patterns (see: Chapter 1, Section III(A)(1)).
    2. Research suggests that the probability of recidivism is reduced when defendants develop and maintain prosocial bonds to family, school, and work. Allowing the probation officer to be aware of the defendant’s home, family, and work environment through home and community visits helps the probation officer become aware of the defendant’s social environment and assists with the creation of a prosocial environment (see: Chapter 1, Section III(A)(2)).
    3. Research suggests that exposure to antisocial associates increases the probability of recidivism. Home and community visits permit the probation officer to remain aware of the defendant’s associates (see: Chapter 1, Section III(A)(3)).
    4. 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. Allowing the probation officer to visit the home, work, or elsewhere in the community permits the probation officer to be aware of the defendant’s living environment and social network in order to implement supervision strategies to reduce criminal opportunities (see: Chapter 1, Section III(A)(4)).  

D. Method of Implementation

  1. Certain core activities are to be undertaken during the course of supervision to meet the probation officer’s responsibility to stay informed and to implement correctional and controlling supervision strategies. These activities include visiting the defendant’s home and developing contacts within the defendant’s social network.
  2. The supervision planning process begins with an initial investigation during which probation officers review documentation, meet with defendants, conduct on-site examinations of their residence, and develop contacts within the defendant’s social network.
  3. The first visit to the defendant’s home is generally more thorough than subsequent visits and serves multiple purposes: to gather information regarding the home and its occupants, to encourage and answer questions regarding the supervision process, to enlist on-the-scene supervision partners, and to observe for weapons or other potential safety hazards. The probation officer asks the defendant to submit some form of documentation of residency, which may include a mortgage, lease, or utility bill, and attempts to meet with other occupants. The probation officer also requests consent to walk through each room in the home and any structures on the defendant’s property. Should the probation officer view any items prohibited by the conditions of supervision in plain view, he or she may seize and remove them. The probation officer does not enter any closed areas without the consent of the defendant. The information obtained during the first home visit is used to assess the defendant’s risks, needs, and strengths for the purpose of preparing the initial supervision plan.
  4. Following the first home visit, the probation officer continues to conduct visits in a manner and at a frequency specifically tailored to the risk and needs of the defendant and the overall goals of supervision. Some visits are brief, with a functional purpose (e.g., deliver paperwork related to supervision or other court correspondence). Others may involve a lengthy discussion of a specific goal of supervision, such as assessing mental health stability or offering assistance in securing employment. Home visits are often conducted in a manner that prevents disruption of the defendant’s prosocial activities (e.g., work), routinely requiring probation officers to conduct visits during non-traditional work hours (e.g., evenings and weekends). Probation officers may use home visits to relieve certain defendants of the obligation or burden often associated with reporting to a probation office, particularly when defendants lack transportation, are physically disabled, live in a remote area, care for small children, or otherwise find it difficult to travel to a probation office.
  5. The probation officer may also visit the defendant at other locations within the community, such as the defendant’s place of employment; a treatment, volunteer, or community service agency; or a family member or significant other’s residence. These visits are used to verify compliance with employment, training, community service, or treatment conditions, or to accommodate the defendant’s regular schedule of activities. At all times during these visits, probation officers are sensitive to the need for discretion and protection of confidential information related to supervision. Probation officers should also strive to create on-the-scene partners in the supervision process by developing sources of information and positive support for defendants. These early contacts provide the first opportunity to establish rapport with family members and significant others. During home visits, the probation officer notes and assesses unexplained changes in financial condition, symptoms of mental health crisis or substance abuse relapse, signs of a need for subsistence assistance, or potential return to criminal activity.
  6. 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 is that the defendant can seldom be found at the residence.
  7. The frequency of core supervision activities such as visits to the home or elsewhere in the community is to be dictated by the relevant issues in each case. For defendants who qualify for low-risk supervision standards under Judicial Conference policy (see: Chapter 1, Section II(C)(1)), some of the core activities will be undertaken only during the initial assessment, near the end of the supervision term, or in response to changed circumstances. In higher-risk cases, the supervision objectives and the purpose(s) of each activity are to guide the establishment of a fieldwork schedule, which should incorporate non-traditional early morning, evening, and/or weekend hours as necessary to promote compliance and accomplish the objectives in the individual case.