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Probation and Pretrial Services – Annual Report 2022

Probation and pretrial services offices strive to achieve positive changes in individuals under supervision while also protecting the community. Using evidence-based practices and innovative technology, these offices focus on the efficient use of limited resources to maintain public safety and steadily reduce recidivism.

A federal judge swears in new a probation and pretrial services officer in a federal courtroom..

A federal judge swears in a new probation and pretrial services officer.

Increasing Pretrial Release Rates

The Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts (AO) made progress in 2022 on a multilevel effort to increase releases from detention while defendants await trials. 

The standard pretrial services bail report is being revised based on input from the Judicial Conference’s Criminal Law Committee, the Magistrate Judges Advisory Group, the federal defender community, and probation and pretrial services personnel. The goals are to identify ways to better communicate to defendants the risk of rearrest and failure to appear while on supervision and to reduce detention while maintaining low rates of rearrest and failure to appear. The new report will be tested in the courts in early 2023 before it’s considered for system-wide adoption.  

In February, a series of fireside chats was held for probation and pretrial services officers that focused on reducing pretrial detention. The virtual series offered monthly presentations and interactive discussions with officers from around the country. Topics included national pretrial initiatives, the detention presumption, research into pretrial risk assessment, and the impact of risk on release and detention decisions. 

Also in 2022, the AO released a series of interactive online dashboards that give judges data to assist them in their pretrial release and detention decisions. The dashboards provide key information to reduce pretrial detention while minimizing missed court appearances and protecting community safety. The dashboards enable judges to see the number and percentage of defendants they have released pretrial; analyze how their decisions have varied based on selected criteria such as pretrial risk assessment scores and most serious offense charged; determine how many released defendants commit pretrial violations such as missed court appearances, new-crime arrests, or technical violations; and compare their decisions with national, circuit, or district release patterns. 

Using Evidence-Based Practices to Curb Recidivism

The AO began working with select courts in an effort to identify effective strategies for reducing recidivism that could eventually be used nationwide. The goal is to develop a model for supervising people that better integrates evidence-based practices demonstrated by social science research to be effective in reducing recidivism. 

Courts in the District of North Dakota, the District of Kansas, and the Eastern District of Arkansas are serving as “transformation zones” to develop a supervision model that will demonstrate how evidence-based practices are interrelated and can lead to positive outcomes, focusing on how to put scientific, data-informed principles into practice. The AO is working with the districts to effectively support the use of evidence-based practices.   

The federal Probation and Pretrial Services System has long embraced evidence-based practices, with officers using the best available scientific data to influence their supervision decisions. They use data tools such as risk assessments that help them determine the best approach for individuals, with the ultimate aim of protecting communities and helping people rebuild their lives. 

First Step Act Prison Releases

The federal probation system dealt with a large influx of former prisoners in need of supervision in 2022 after the U.S. Bureau of Prisons (BOP) released them under the terms of the First Step Act.  

Some 6,000 former inmates met the criteria for release under final regulations put in place by the BOP. Low-risk inmates were able to earn time credits by participating in recommended programming. A sufficient number of credits made it possible for them to reduce the length of their prison terms. They then were eligible for one of three options: to be moved to residential reentry centers, placed on home confinement, or assigned to supervised release by federal probation officers. 

The early releases generated an unanticipated surge in workload and supervision-related costs for services such as housing and mental health and substance abuse treatment. Chief probation officers at courts across the country were provided rosters of inmates eligible for early release and worked to facilitate their safe reentry into their communities. Judge Roslynn Mauskopf, the AO Director, made $5 million in Judiciary funds available to hire additional officers where they were needed and to support reentry services.  

The goals of the First Step Act, enacted in 2018, included cutting unnecessarily long federal sentences and improving prison conditions by focusing on rehabilitation rather than punishment. 

Automated Case Tracking System

The AO completed several phases of building the new Probation and Pretrial Services Automated Case Tracking System (PACTS), including the addition of client and  case management, pretrial and presentence investigations, and case orders and sentences. When it is finished, the new PACTS will replace the current aging system with a highly configurable, cloud-based system that is more efficient and easier to use, with “sandbox” features for testing and experimentation. 

Six pilot courts are testing and providing feedback as the system is developed. It is expected to be operational in fiscal year 2025. Initially, the new system will focus on supervision capabilities, risk assessment, clinical services, and external integrations.  

The PACTS system is vital to the work of probation and pretrial services officers. It is the main case management system used in their supervision and investigative efforts. The new version will provide a single database for all case records, from pretrial interview and bail reports to presentence investigation documents and will facilitate greater data-sharing among offices nationwide. 

Officers’ Safety and Wellness 

Probation and pretrial services officers often work in unsafe environments, late at night, or on weekends and holidays. In addition to the normal challenges of their jobs, officers face issues such as staffing shortages and rising workloads. The AO created a Wellness Working Group in 2022 to ensure that wellness resources are available to officers systemwide. 

A new, confidential wellness application for probation and pretrial services staff and their families was rolled out nationwide in spring 2022. It provides wellness resources such as self-assessments and information about treatment providers who work with law enforcement officers. In July 2002, more than 300 participants attended a Wellness Working Group-hosted conference in Atlanta, GA, which focused on issues affecting the mental health and well-being of officers, their staffs, and their families.   

Other resources made available in recent years include online wellness information for officers and managers, guidance for developing in-district wellness programs, training opportunities, and a directory of subject-matter experts. The AO also publishes Wellness Wisdom, a quarterly newsletter that highlights related ideas, activities, and strategies.