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Probation and Pretrial Services – Annual Report 2023

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

The probation and pretrial services office in Minnesota collected school supplies to distribute to local area schools.

The Probation and Pretrial Services Office in Minnesota collected school supplies to distribute to local area schools.

Reducing Unnecessary Pretrial Detention

The Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts (AO) pursued several initiatives in 2023 to enhance the use of data and research in pretrial decision-making in federal courts and to increase system-wide outreach and training of officers in support of reducing unnecessary pretrial detention without compromising public safety.

One of the roles of federal probation and pretrial services officers is to assess defendants and make recommendations to judges about release or detention decisions. An officer’s recommendations are based on an individual’s threat to community safety and risk of flight. In 2023, the AO completed research that delved into aggregate officers’ recommendations to judges, the number and type of conditions of supervision imposed by judges, and the impact of certain factors on an individual’s success on pretrial supervision. The findings from the research are being used to shape revisions to national policies and training programs.

Over the course of the year, AO staff participated in a variety of Federal Judicial Center educational programs for judges, officers, and other stakeholders on effective pretrial services. The staff presented research findings, data trends, and reviewed policy requirements. The AO also hosted a series of virtual Fireside Chats with probation and pretrial services officers from across the Judiciary. Each session focused on a specific topic, such as risk assessment, conditions of release, and effective supervision strategies.

Expanding the Deployment of Evidence-Based Practices

The AO in 2023 expanded an important new initiative aimed at reducing recidivism among people charged with crimes in federal court. Seven districts were added to a group of transformation zones that are working to develop a supervision model that demonstrates how evidence-based practices are interrelated and can lead to positive outcomes, focusing on how to put scientific, data-informed principles into practice. The initiative began with two districts in 2022. The goal is eventually to establish a Judiciary-wide approach.

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.

Better Case Tracking Through IT Modernization

Six court districts began testing and providing feedback on a new Probation and Pretrial Services Automated Case Tracking System (PACTS360), a major initiative that will result in the modernization of the main case management system used by probation and pretrial services officers in their supervision and investigative efforts. PACTS360 will provide a single database for all case and client records, from pretrial interviews and bail reports to presentence investigations and supervision, and will facilitate greater data sharing among offices nationwide.

When it is finished, PACTS360 will replace the current aging system with a highly configurable, cloud-based system that is more efficient and more secure. It will provide access to the enterprise data warehouse for improved operational and analytical reporting.

Officer Safety and Wellness

Probation and pretrial services officers face a variety of stressors that can take a toll on their physical and mental health. Officers are vulnerable to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety, cardiovascular disease, and sleep disorders. In 2022, the AO created a Wellness Working Group to ensure that wellness resources are available to officers system-wide. Staff, retirees, and their families now have access to a confidential wellness application, with resources such as self-assessments, access to various wellness training topics, and links to mental health resources for staff, colleagues, and loved ones. Other resources include suicide prevention resources, online wellness information for officers and managers, guidance for developing and maintaining in-district wellness programs, and training opportunities. The group also publishes a quarterly newsletter, Wellness Wisdom