Information about the US Probation Office
U.S. probation and pretrial services officers, considered the "eyes and ears" of the federal courts, investigate and supervise persons charged with or convicted of federal crimes. In a day's work, our officers may:
- gather and verify information about persons who come before the courts.
- prepare reports that the courts rely on to make release and sentencing decisions.
- supervise persons released to the community by the courts and paroling authorities.
- direct persons under supervision to services to help them stay on the right side of the law, including substance abuse treatment, mental health treatment, medical care, training, and employment assistance.
History of the Federal Probation and Pretrial Services
At the turn of the 20th century, judges in various courts were using “probation” informally. By the early 1900s, about 60 courts informally practiced “probation.” The practice eventually takes hold in the federal system.
Then in 1925, The Federal Probation Act is enacted and a probation system in the United States courts is established. In 1927, the first salaried probation officer is appointed in the Southern District of New York.
In the 1930s and 1940s, probation officer duties are defined, a formal training program is implemented, preliminary qualifications established, and special retirement provisions are enacted for “law enforcement” positions whose duties are primarily the investigation, apprehension, or detention of individuals suspected or convicted of offenses against the United States.
In the 1970s, the pretrial services program is established and later in the decade, the Parole Commission and Reorganization Act is enacted. The law, enacted on May 14, 1976 reorganizes the federal parole system, replaces the United States Parole Board with the United States Parole Commission, and establishes it as an independent agency within the Department of Justice.
During the 1980s, truth in sentencing laws are enacted and designed to ensure that similarly situated offenders who commit similar crimes receive the same sentence. The result is the creation of a determinate federal sentencing regime, establishment of the United States Sentencing Commission to promulgate sentence guidelines, and the abolition of parole.
The pretrial services program is also expanded nationwide. Efforts to develop alternatives to detention and to implement less-costly supervision programs, such as community service, curfew, home confinement, and electronic monitoring, are started.
In the 1990s, in response to the “war on drugs,” greater emphasis is placed on offender drug abuse through mandated drug testing programs.
Statutory changes are enacted to provide for greater monitoring of offenders released to the community in need of psychiatric treatment. “Plain view” searches are expanded to include procedures for applying for and conducting searches and seizures authorized by some courts as a condition of supervision. Probation officers are also aggressively working to collect outstanding fines and restitution as a result of greater interest in compensating victims for their losses.
The 21st century brings additional changes to the probation and pretrial services system. Greater emphasis is placed on officer integrity through workplace drug testing policies and updated background investigations. Uniform procedures are being instituted to better help define the role of probation officers in collecting criminal monetary penalties and nationwide standards are adopted to provide uniformity in the operation and administration of the home confinement program. In addition, supervision policies are being retooled to emphasize the need to blend law enforcement and social work strategies to manage offender risk in the community, to promote mission-critical, purposeful supervision, and to target supervision resources to higher-risk offenders.