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Role Of The Probation Officer

Probation Officers

In the 94 federal judicial districts nationwide, U.S. probation officers play an integral role in the administration of justice. Probation officers serve as the community corrections arm of the federal court system. They provide to the court two important services: investigation and supervision.

U.S. probation officers make an important contribution to the federal criminal justice process. Their mission is to investigate and supervise persons under supervision whom the courts have conditionally released to the community on probation, parole, or supervised release.

By serving as the court’s factfinder, controlling the risk persons under supervision may pose to public safety, and providing persons under supervision with correctional treatment, officers help ensure that persons previously convicted of crime obey the law rather than commit further crime.

Officers’ responsibilities require them to work not only with federal judges and other court professionals, but with U.S. attorneys, defense attorneys, Bureau of Prisons and U.S. Parole Commission officials, state and local law enforcement agents, treatment providers, and community leaders. Officers deliver services that benefit the court, the community, and the person under supervision.



Officers supervise, or monitor, all persons under supervision conditionally released to the community by the federal courts, the U.S. Parole Commission, and military authorities. Community supervision gives officers the means to carry out the court’s sentence and to address public safety and person under supervision rehabilitation goals.

Supervision begins with assessing the person under supervision, identifying potential supervision problems, and making a supervision plan. The officer assesses the potential risk the person under supervision poses, which affects the amount of personal contact the officer has with the person under supervision.

The supervision plan addresses the person under supervision’s problems and how to resolve them. Problems are any circumstances that limit the person under supervision’s ability or desire to complete supervision successfully.

In supervising persons under supervision, officers hold weighty public safety responsibilities. They use risk control techniques designed to detect and deter criminal behavior. Such techniques include verifying persons' under supervision’ employment and income sources, monitoring their associates, restricting their travel, and requiring them to undergo correctional treatment.

Correctional treatment is key to controlling the risk persons under supervision may pose and to helping them change behavior that contributes to criminality. Correctional treatment encompasses many services, including drug or alcohol treatment, mental health treatment, educational or vocational training, medical care, and employment assistance. The officer’s job is to locate and use community resources to address persons' under supervision needs in these areas or to arrange for services.

Officers periodically evaluate the person under supervision’s responses to supervision and revise supervision plans as necessary. Officers keep informed of the conduct and condition of persons' under supervision throughout supervision; help them improve, consistent with the court’s order; and keep records of supervision activities. If necessary, officers ask the court to modify the conditions to provide for home confinement, financial disclosure, or other conditions to reduce risk.

Persons under supervision who do not comply with supervision conditions face sanctions ranging from reprimand to revocation proceedings. The most serious violations include violations for new criminal conduct, violations that compromise public safety, and absconding from supervision.


Conditions of Release

The officer recommends conditions of release in the presentence report. These are the conditions under which the court releases the person under supervision to the community. Conditions address many areas of the person under supervision’s life–including personal, financial, and health issues–and help structure the person under supervision’s movement and behavior.

The court imposes two kinds of conditions: mandatory and discretionary. Mandatory conditions apply to all persons under supervision. For example, they forbid the person under supervision to commit another federal, state, or local crime; require the person under supervision to report as directed to the probation officer; and prohibit the person under supervision’s use of alcohol or drugs.

Discretionary conditions give the officer the authority to administer additional sanctions and provide correctional treatment to address specific risks the person under supervision may present to himself or herself, others, and the community in general. For example, they may require the person under supervision to serve a period of home confinement, undergo drug testing or treatment, or disclose financial information.

When supervision begins, the officer assigned to supervise the person under supervision fully explains the conditions of release and the consequences of not complying with them. The person under supervision receives a written statement that sets forth the conditions.


Special Skills and Responsibilities

Some officers use special skills, work with particular caseloads, and take on specialized responsibilities to further investigation, supervision, and officer safety goals. Experience, on-the-job training, and training from outside sources prepare officers for specialist positions. For example, drug and alcohol treatment specialists closely supervise drug- or alcohol dependent persons under supervision, require them to undergo drug testing, and arrange for appropriate treatment such as detoxification or counseling. Mental health treatment, home confinement, community service, sentencing guidelines, financial investigation, employment, and firearms are some other specialty areas.