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The U.S. Probation Office was created when Congress passed the Federal Probation Act of 1925. The Act provided for establishing a probation system in the U.S. Courts and gave courts the power to appoint probation officers and to place defendants on probation. In 1982, pretrial services was developed as a means to deter crime committed by persons released to the community before trial and to ensure that these individuals were not detained unnecessarily. These defendants are supervised by the U.S. Probation Office until their cases are disposed.

If the defendants are convicted of a crime, the U.S. Probation Office conducts presentence investigations for the courts. These investigations include verifying background information and prior criminal records. The final reports also include applicable federal sentencing guidelines and statutes. Officers often provide guidance to the court during the sentencing process.

The Sentencing Reform Act of 1984 abolished federal parole and left jurisdiction of these offenders with the sentencing courts. Offenders sentenced to the Bureau of Prisons serve 85% of their sentence. While incarcerated, offenders are required to participate in programs that will assist them upon their return to the community. Upon being released to the community, the offenders serve a term of supervised release. While on supervised release, they are supervised by the U.S. Probation Office.

The overall goal is to have the offenders make positive adjustments and complete their term of supervised release without committing new criminal behavior. In doing so, the offenders are offered many services to aid them with employment, substance abuse treatment, mental health treatment, and life skills development.

While on supervised release or probation, many offenders make positive adjustments and live law abiding lifestyles. Those that cannot conform to the rules of society or the rules of their supervision program are often taken back to court for further considerations. Unfortunately, many of these offenders are returned to prison. This process serves to further protect the community and to hold offenders accountable for their behavior.

Today, the U.S. Probation and Pretrial Services System serves 94 federal judicial districts nationwide. The chief probation officers that oversee the respective functions in each district answer to the courts they serve.