Spotlight on Criminal Justice: The National Observance of Pretrial, Probation and Parole Supervision Week – July
Since 1999, the third week of July has been dedicated to recognizing and celebrating the public service of the more than 100,000 pretrial, probation and parole officers across the United States. The American Probation and Parole Association launched the effort as a state-wide initiative and the first proclamation, issued by Colorado Gov. Bill Owens, has now been adopted by every state. The U.S. Courts acknowledge that community supervision officers “provide services that protect the community; help the federal courts ensure the fair administration of justice; and investigate and supervise persons charged with and convicted of crimes against the United States.”
While the week is referred to as a national observance week, a congressional or presidential proclamation has never been issued. The absence of an official national proclamation, like those issued for National Police Week and National Corrections Officer Week, speaks to the ongoing lack of understanding about the role pretrial, probation and parole officers serve in the larger judicial process as facilitators of public safety.
Simply put, police officers are the gatekeepers of the criminal justice system, arresting and charging alleged law violators, and corrections officers are accountable for the care, custody and control of individuals detained in jail or prison. Pretrial, probation and parole officers provide a continuum of supervision and services from arraignment through the completion of an individual’s sentence. While conversations about policing, bail, prosecutorial and jail reform are ubiquitous, much less attention is dedicated to the potential public safety benefits of investing in evidence-based community supervision practices.
Pretrial Supervision Officers
Did you know that half a million people, or two-thirds of the jail population, are being detained but haven’t been convicted of a crime? Some might be considered flight or public safety risks, but many remain incarcerated because they are unable to pay bail or find others to assist them with their supervised release plan.
More than 300 jurisdictions have adopted a variety of pretrial service models—some offered at the municipal or county-level, others provided statewide under the judiciary or probation department, and some under the department of corrections. Pretrial supervision officers conduct risk assessments; interview the accused and verify their information; run criminal history checks; present bail, release or diversion recommendations to the court; check to ensure the individual is complying with the conditions of their release; supervise and support individuals in the community; offer court reminders; and report process and outcomes to stakeholders. Jurisdictions that utilize the pretrial support service model have higher court appearance and lower re-arrest rates, even for violent offenses.
Did you know that probation is the most frequently imposed sentence for violations of criminal law? Compared to approximately 740,000 people in jail and the 1.2 million people in state or federal prisons, there are almost 3 million adults on probation. There are more than 2,000 agencies that supervise the individuals who have been granted a term of community supervision, subject to the conditions of the court, in lieu of incarceration. Probation is administered at the federal, state and local levels. Probation can fall under the judicial or executive branches of government.
While probation is a sentence, the work of the probation officer begins prior to sentencing. Probation officers conduct presentence investigations and compile exhaustive background reports to inform the sentencing of an individual. In addition to the sentencing recommendation, the report is also used to determine appropriate programming during incarceration, upon release or while on probation. When supervising probationers in the community, officers fulfill dual roles—referred to as part law enforcement, part social worker. As peace officers, they possess search and arrest powers and may be armed. As officers of the court, they provide correctional treatment and monitor compliance with the terms of supervision by making home visits, drug testing, verifying education or employment, and ensuring participation in required therapeutic programs. They also support the rehabilitative needs of the individual and their victim(s) and the concerns of the community.
Did you know that more than 95 percent of the prison population will be released back into the community? Six hundred thousand state and federal prison inmates and nine million jail inmates are released each year. The vast majority are released on parole, having served part of their sentence in jail or prison, with the remainder to be served in the community, subject to certain conditions.
Parole officers facilitate public safety by assisting in the transition from jail or prison to the community and monitoring compliance with the conditions of release. Many of the daily duties are similar to that of a probation officer, but the challenges that reentrants face are more substantial and the potential threat to public safety may be elevated. Being sentenced to incarceration indicates that either the offense was more severe, compared to those on probation, or that the individual possessed a more extensive criminal history. Public safety is the priority in addition to rehabilitation so that individuals are less likely to commit crime in the future. Even brief jail stays produce long-term disruptions in family relationships, stability in housing, educational and employment opportunities, food security and social cohesion. Parole officers assist reentrants in navigating these issues while connecting individuals to programming designed to reduce recidivism.
National attention to criminal justice reform focuses on police, bail, jail and prosecutors. These are important, but they distract from the opportunities to enhance public safety and reduce recidivism by investing resources in evidence-based pretrial, probation, and parole policies and practices. Perhaps the challenge is that the role is much less clear-cut compared to police and corrections counterparts. Many pretrial, probation and parole officers do not wear uniforms; some are community-based while others supervise clients from an office in the courthouse or justice center; some are armed; and others are unarmed.
Some agencies combine pretrial and probation services; others combine probation and parole services. Some combine all three and others keep the various functions under separate departments or branches of government. Collectively, the three groups of professionals (pretrial, probation and parole) are often referred to as community supervision officers. The number of agencies administering these services is fewer than those of police (18,000) and corrections (> 5,000), which offers an opportunity to encourage desistance from crime by adopting scientifically supported supervision strategies from the time of arrest to completion of the imposed sentence. National Pretrial, Probation and Parole Supervision Week offers the opportunity to recognize the vital role these professionals play in keeping communities safe by helping individuals address the root causes of crime and connecting them with resources they need to remain law-abiding.