02. Supervised Release
Your first meeting with U.S. Probation (Probation) occurs after you are released from the custody of the Bureau of Prisons (either halfway house or Home Confinement Under The Supervision of Probation) and is required within a stated period of time after leaving custody (usually 72 hours). During your initial meeting with Probation, the officer assigned to your case file will review your Judgement and Commitment order that was created at the time of your sentencing. This includes things like the length of supervision, drug aftercare, additional programming or treatment, fines outstanding, restitution and community service.
While on supervised release you are required to abide by certain conditions, some mandated by statute and others imposed at the court’s discretion. If you were to violate a condition of probation, a federal judge is authorized to revoke a term of supervised release and require the defendant to serve all or part of the term of supervised release in prison. A violation of supervised release usually involves breaking one of the rules set by the judge, a law or a direction given by the officer. Some examples of violations are using drugs, failure to report or stay in touch with the assigned probation officer, and committing a new crime. Not all violations of probation and supervised release result in returning to prison, in fact, every effort is made to make sure that this does not happen. If you have any concerns about a violation, you should immediately contact your attorney to have them get involved. A Probation Officer cannot direct you back to prison, only a Federal Judge can do that. However, the officer can ask for a hearing and present information as to why she believes you need to complete your supervision term in prison. Again, this is very rare for most people. Many times, an issue can be resolved without a formal violation being filed.
The officer will go over all of the rules and some of these may be unique to your case. Here are some examples that apply to pretty much everyone:
- Restricted travel to the judicial district or local areas unless permission is granted by probation officer
- Submission of DNA sample (which should have already been collected upon entering federal prison)
- Notification of changes in home address
- Filing a monthly report (covered later) within the first 5 days of each month
- Obeying all current laws and if you have any encounter with the authorities then that must be reported (yes, even traffic violations)
- No association with anyone who has a felony record, or if you do you must disclose this to your probation officer
- No excess consumption of alcohol and no use of a controlled substance. Illegal use of a controlled substance could also mean taking medication that are not prescribed for you
- You cannot possess a firearm or ammunition (which is also prohibited once you are off of Supervised Release
- You must allow the probation officer to enter your residence at any time and shall permit confiscation of any contraband observed in plain view of the probation officer
- You must continue to meet the requirements of the financial obligations placed on you by the court (failure to make restitution payments is a serious violation).
- You must submit to drug testing upon request
- You must have permission to enter into any contractual or legal agreement
- You must have permission to enter into of financial arrangement (e.g. loans, credit cards, even opening a bank account, brokerage accounts, etc.)
- You must work regularly at a lawful occupation unless excused by the probation officer for education, training or other acceptable reasons (e.g. health or disability).
The basic goals and guidelines of supervising someone is a government document entitled Guide to Judiciary Policy, Vol 8: Probation and Pretrial Services, Part E: Supervision of Federal Offenders (Monograph 109). In addition it is contained in our Resources section.
Officers intervene with a variety of strategies aimed at maximizing defendant and offender success during the period of supervision. These strategies include techniques both to control and to correct the behavior of persons under supervision to help ensure that these individuals comply with the conditions of release the court has set for them and remain law abiding. As part of risk control–and by order of the court--officers may direct defendants and offenders to services that help them stay on the right side of the law. These services include substance abuse or mental health treatment, medical care, training, or employment assistance. Treatment providers under contract to the U.S. courts provide many of these services. Social service resources provided by state programs also are used.
Your frequency of visiting with your probation officer will be dependent on the supervision plan the officer has developed with you. Some offenders may require weekly meetings and even more frequent phone contact while for others, occasional contact is sufficient. These meetings can take place at the probation office, your home or a mutually agreed upon location (like a coffee shop). Probation also has another approach known as "Collateral contact,” which are meetings with the offender’s family members, friends, neighbors, and employers. Most probation officers understand that this approach is intrusive but may be necessary if previous reporting has been insufficient or deceptive.
The probation officer cannot send an offender back to prison, but it is part of the officer's job to notify the court of an offender’s violation of a condition. Typically, if the officer learns of a minor violation of a condition or believes that a violation is likely, he or she tries to work with the offender to head off a more serious problem. Or the officer might ask the judge to modify the conditions of release to impose a restriction geared to helping the offender resist temptation or to require needed treatment. After a serious violation or repeated violations, the officer may believe that a particular offender cannot or will not do what it takes to serve a sentence outside of prison. It’s then the officer’s job to notify the judge and request a a revocation of supervised release. The offender is entitled to a revocation hearing, at which the judge may decide to revoke the supervised release and send the offender back to prison.
After going home, people have visions of going on vacation or going to visit relatives as soon as possible. There is almost no chance of going on vacation upon getting out of prison and as far as travel you will not be allowed to travel out of the district area for at least 60 days, known as an adjustment period. However, if there was a death in the family or a needed trip for medical reasons, then these are allowed. Travel outside of the district will eventually be allowed but it will be requested and permission granted on a case by case basis.
Each month you will log-in to access Supervision Reporting on line, which is known as the Probation and Pretrial Services Electronic Reporting System. Some choose to use the actual form and that can be faxed to Probation. This is a status report of your life that verifies where you live, how much you made, financial information, interaction with law enforcement, compliance with supervision rules and a signature confirming that all the information you provide is accurate. You have to turn it in during the first week of each month. The form is simple and takes just a few minutes to fill out each month. The first time filling the information on line is the most difficult but once you have it all filled in, each additional month the fields are automatically populated and you just document any changes.
Assuming things go well on Supervised Release, after a year to 18 months , Probation can put you on Administrative Case Load, which is a non-physical reporting status. This is for people who are considered low risk and it is the lowest level of supervision available. In these cases, visits to Probation will be once per year and maybe there could be a phone call from time to time. Travel may still be restricted but it would be to a level where you had to just provide notice as to where you were traveling. Rarely would you be allowed to leave the country, like for vacation, but could do so for work.
If there is a need for a drug test, you will be notified by your probation officer to come in and provide a urine sample. These are usually requested on short-notice so you will have to comply with the request usually within 24 hours of notification. If you were part of the RDAP, the substance screening is at a higher frequency, Mandatory Drug Testing (MDT) may require testing monthly or even weekly for those in RDAP. The rules and frequency of testing are provided to everyone.
If a judge mandated community service hours as part of your sentence, this is where you will meet that commitment. You alone are responsible to take the initiative to find and maintain a suitable program at which you are to volunteer (no payment) for services to meet the community service part of the sentence. For those who have it, judges typically give hundreds of hours, meaning that the service will be part of most of the Supervised Release term.
Some places will not be able to work with someone with a conviction, for instance working with children or the elderly. Disclosing your felony is going to be your responsibility and the ultimate approval for your community service falls with Probation.
Hours worked at the job must be accurately logged and must have someone in authority signing off that the work was performed. You may or may not have to turn this in monthly, so you need to keep track of it and then turn it in once complete. Most people do their service in the evenings during the week or a few hours on the weekend.
Making the court ordered restitution is extremely important. Prior to sentencing, the amount of money that the judge stated for restitution may not have been significant, but after prison, the monthly commitment may seem high. Most attorneys ask judges to assign a payment that is a percentage of someone’s take home pay. If your amount is a stated dollar amount, you need to make arrangements to make that payment whether or not you have a job.
Unlike in prison when the dollar amount was low, $25-$50/month, under supervision you are required to pay the amount that the judge stated beginning in the first month.
When it comes to finding a job, Probation is going to support you as much as possible. It will most likely be up to you as to whether or not you disclose that you are on Supervised Release to your employer. You need to inform Probation where you are working, if you quit a job and when you get a new job. You should also let Probation know whether or not your employer knows and she will work with you on maintaining that privacy as long as it meets the terms of your supervision.
Again, there are a lot of rules but life is going to start getting better much faster.