Probationary Work in Federal Justice

probation officer trainers

The job of federal probation officers is to supervise offenders in the community, help direct them toward helpful resources, such as job training, and ensure compliance with court orders, like drug testing.[1] These officers use evidence-based methods, experience and training to predict risks and identify ways to reduce recidivism. The need for these professionals is increasing as American legislators look for more efficient crime management methods.

A Snapshot of Federal Probation Work

Federal probation officers work for the Federal Probation Service and manage offenders involved with the US District Courts.[2] Probation officers’ primary responsibility is to make sure that offenders comply with their probationary terms. Officers are also responsible for investigating offenders’ backgrounds, writing presentencing reports, making sentencing recommendations and testifying in court regarding their research and recommendations.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) describes probation officers as individuals who provide counsel and plan rehabilitation for criminal offenders.[2] Probation officers work to protect the public and assist the federal court system with fairly administering justice. They also supervise individuals involved in the criminal justice system by working to identify their risk factors, locating resources to help meet their needs and preventing repeat criminal offenses.

Job Duties for Federal Probation Officers

Probation officers monitor offenders as they conduct their daily activities.[3] To mitigate or eliminate recidivism risks, probation officers limit where offenders may travel and monitor their whereabouts during the period of supervision. Tools such as electronic ankle bracelets record offenders’ locations and help probation officers enforce curfew and travel restrictions. The officers also make sure that these individuals participate in required rehabilitation services, by locating and securing resources, such as:

  • Counseling
  • Employment services
  • Housing
  • Outreach programs

Federal probation officers must also familiarize themselves with detailed offender information, such as:

  • Court records
  • Employment histories
  • Academic backgrounds
  • Financial records
  • Military records

Additionally, the officers communicate with the offenders’ acquaintances and family members to monitor offender progress.

Assessing Offenders

Federal probation officers use an empirical evidence framework called the Risk, Needs and Responsiveness (RNR) model to determine whether an offender continues to pose a threat to the community or will repeat criminal behavior. [5] The Post Conviction Risk Assessment (PCRA) tool further refines the RNR model specifically for probation work. The PCRA helps probation officers designate offender risk classifications and determines which offenders are at highest risk of repeating crimes.

According to a report published in the Federal Probation Journal, intense supervision of low risk offenders potentially increases the probability of recidivism. [5] Although studies show the PCRA framework effective as a predictive tool, it is ultimately up to the probation officer to monitor and respond to potential offender risks. The framework is important, because different offenders need varying levels of supervision. Using the framework, probation officers develop more effective reform plans for offenders based on their individual risk factors.

Challenges for Federal Probation Officers

The federal probation service typically assigns probation officers a 40-hour workweek.[3] Job responsibilities such as case reporting or offender-related emergencies increase these hours. Depending on their jurisdiction, the officers travel extensively to complete their work. Some offices attempt to ease this burden by allowing the officers to telecommute on some days or providing tracking equipment to monitor offenders remotely.

Sometimes, an officer interacts with an offender, or other distressed individuals, which increases work-related stress. For officers’ safety, agencies that oversee high crime areas may require probation officers to carry firearms.

Probation officers impact crime by helping offenders avoid future offending. Using training in criminology and criminal justice, these professionals can help offenders by providing them with critical guidance and reformative resources. The officers hope to reduce the likelihood that offenders will commit additional crimes. To accomplish this, the officers have many responsibilities in and out of the office. As the sentencing reform continues in the United States and more alternatives to incarceration are employed, the demand for federal probation officers is likely to continue to grow. [6]

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