When a judge imposes a prison term, liberty isn’t fully restored after the term ends. Learn about Supervised Release and how to prepare for early termination.
Unfortunately, liberty isn’t immediately restored for individuals who complete a federal prison sentence. In most federal cases, judges impose a term of Supervised Release in addition to confinement and financial sanctions. When judges sentence defendants to Supervised Release, a federal probation officer will expect him to report to the U.S. Probation office within three days of completing the obligation to the Bureau of Prisons. The Case Manager at the halfway house or the prison will provide those instructions several months before the final day of the sentence.
Transitioning from the Bureau of Prisons to federal probation brings a massive shift in the quality of life for the individual. Administrators in the Bureau of Prisons focus on the culture of confinement. Rather than being concerned with an inmate’s plans upon release, administrators within the BOP will routinely say and show that their primary concern is to maintain security of the institution.
Once an individual completes his obligation to the Bureau of Prisons, however, his level of liberty increases substantially. The Federal Probation Officer who supervises his case will tell him that in contrast to the BOP, Probation strives to help the individual succeed as a law-abiding, contributing citizen. The initial months on Supervised Release may feel somewhat intrusive. But as long as the individual chooses to live in compliance with the rules set forth by the Probation Officer, the individual will adjust easily enough.
The following information is a clinical assessment of what an individual can expect on Supervised Release. As a general observation, it’s important to note that the United States operates 93 different judicial districts. Each district has its own Probation Office, and each district has a Chief Probation Officer. The Chief Probation Officer will set the tone for the office, issuing guidelines for all Probation Officers in the district to follow.
Don’t let the details overwhelm you. Interacting with a Federal Probation Officer while on Supervised Release is much less stressful than interacting with the Bureau of Prisons. And the process becomes easier as time passes, provided that the individual complies with the conditions imposed upon him.
Prior to the individual completing his obligation to the Bureau of Prisons, the Case Manager in prison will coordinate with the appropriate Probation Office. The Case Manager will provide a plan that includes the following information:
- Complete address where the individual will live while on Supervised Release.
- All of the contact information for the individual who will “sponsor” the individual, provided the individual is going to live with someone else. The Probation Officer will confirm that there are no weapons or drugs in the residence.
- The Probation Officer will want to meet with the sponsor and question the sponsor to gather a sense of suitability. The sponsor must provide a copy of the driver’s license, date of birth, and social security number. The Probation Officer will conduct a criminal history check.
- The Probation Officer will either approve or deny the residence as being suitable based on the Pre-Release Investigation.
If the individual completed his sentence in a halfway house, the Probation Officer likely will have visited to meet with the individual at least once. Either way, the first official meeting of Supervised Release takes place in the Probation Office.
The Probation Officer will read the Judgment Order aloud. After reading each condition that the Judge ordered as part of the sentence, the Probation Officer will ask the probationer if he has any questions. When the probation says that he understands, the Probation Officer will ask him to initial the order. This formality ensures that both the probationer and the Probation Officer know and understand the terms of the relationship going forward.
The Judgment Order will dictate the terms of Supervised Release. Different defendants will have different conditions that are specific to their case. Depending on the case, the Judge may impose orders that restrict the type of work an individual can do while on Supervised Release. At Prison Professor, we’ve worked with clients who have conditions of Supervised Release that included:
- No Internet sales or businesses
- No telemarketing work
- No work in the credit industry
- No self-employment
- No working for specific businesses or with specific individuals
When a Judge issues an Order with specific conditions, the Federal Probation Officer will explain that he is required to enforce the order. In addition to the specific orders that the Judge may have imposed on a defendant, the Probation Officer will explain the 13 general rules of Supervised Release that apply to everyone:
- The defendant shall not leave the judicial district without the permission of the court or Probation Officer.
- Below we offer more details on the travel rules for people on Supervised Release.
- The defendant shall report to the Probation Officer and shall submit a truthful and complete written report within the first five days of each month.
- Most clients of Prison Professor are able to submit that report online, and that report becomes the primary contact with the Probation Officer.
- The defendant shall answer truthfully all inquiries by the Probation Officer and follow the instructions of the Probation Officer.
- The Probation Officer becomes less invasive in the individual’s life as trust builds.
- The defendant shall support his or her dependents and meet other family responsibilities;
- At Prison Professor, we’ve not encountered any clients that had trouble with this general condition.
- The defendant shall work regularly at a lawful occupation unless excused by the Probation Officer for schooling, training, or other acceptable reasons.
- The Probation Officer may impose conditions on where an individual can work.
- The defendant shall notify the Probation Officer at least ten days prior to any change in residence or employment.
- At Prison Professor, we’ve worked with an individual who did not notify his Probation Officer of an address where he frequently slept. Our client indicated that he didn’t want to burden his girlfriend with his past. When the Probation Officer learned that the individual slept regularly at another residence, the Probation Officer filed a Notice of Violation, which resulted in the individual being returned to prison.
- The defendant shall refrain from excessive use of alcohol and shall not purchase, possess, use, distribute, or administer any controlled substance or any paraphernalia related to any controlled substance, except as prescribed by a physician.
- Probation Officers violate people on Supervised Release and return them to prison if they find a pattern of substance abuse.
- The defendant shall not frequent places where controlled substances are illegally sold, used, distributed, or administered.
- Probation Officers will watch people on Supervised Release more closely if those individuals live criminal lifestyles.
- The defendant shall not associate with any persons engaged in criminal activity and shall not associate with any person convicted of a felony, unless granted permission to do so by the Probation Officer.
- At Prison Professor, many of our experts built careers by advising other felons how to recalibrate life in society. Since they were compliant with all rules imposed by their Probation Officer, they had authorization to interact with felons. But we’ve worked with clients that Probation Officers wanted to return to prison because of their romantic relationship with other people who had felony records.
- The defendant shall permit a Probation Officer to visit him or her at any time at home or elsewhere and shall permit confiscation of any contraband observed in plain view of the Probation Officer.
- As time passes without incident, the Probation Officer becomes less intrusive. They will set appointments before visiting rather than showing up unannounced, and those visits may only happen annually, or bi annually.
- The defendant shall notify the Probation Officer within 72 hours of being arrested or questioned by a law-enforcement officer.
- If an individual receives a traffic citation, simply send the Probation Officer an email with the details. A more serious interaction with law-enforcement should require counsel from a competent defense attorney.
- The defendant shall not enter into any agreement to act as an informer or a special agent of a law-enforcement agency without the permission of the court.
- An individual should have guidance from competent defense counsel on issues that involve other law-enforcement agencies.
- As directed by the Probation Officer, the defendant shall notify third parties of risks that may be occasioned by the defendant’s criminal record or personal history or characteristics and shall permit the Probation Officer to make such notifications and to confirm the defendant’s compliance with such notification requirement.
- This general rule means that the Probation Officer may choose to visit the individual’s place of employment, bank, or business partners.
The Probation Officer may allow the individual to submit his monthly Supervision Report online. It requires the individual to document the following information:
- Current residence
- Secondary residence
- People with whom he cohabitates
- Place of employment
- Supervisor at place of employment
- Banking information
- Details on expenditures of more than $500
- Any interactions with law enforcement
- Any interactions with felons
- Details on program participation
With regard to financial information, the Probation Officer will require verification, such as bank and credit card statements. Further, it’s crucial to know that those monthly Probation Supervision Reports are legal documents. Once an individual writes the information and signs the form, criminal penalties become possible if the individual deliberately lies. See Title 18 United States Code, Section 1001.
After the individual assures the Probation Officer that he understands the terms and that he will comply, the Probation Officer will administer a risk-assessment test. The multiple-choice test, theoretically, measures an individual’s propensity for further criminal activity. The outcome of that test, and other risk-assessment measurements will influence the “treatment plan,” or “supervision plan” for the individual. When making that assessment, the Probation Officer may consider:
- The Presentence Investigation Report,
- Statements from the US Attorney,
- Statements made at sentencing,
- The individual’s adjustment in prison,
- The individual’s criminal history,
- The individual’s history of violence,
- The individual’s history of substance abuse,
- The individual’s level of support in the community,
- The individual’s education level.
A Probation Officer may begin the Supervised Release process by requiring the individual to report frequently, either by phone or in person, on a weekly basis. Probation Officer may choose a much more remote supervision plan for individuals they deem as being trustworthy. In those instances, an individual may only have to file a monthly report online and see the Probation Officer every few months.
The Probation Officer will conclude the initial meeting by requiring the individual to stand for a photograph and then schedule an appointment for a home visit. They also will likely request a urine sample during the initial meeting.
Federal Probation Officers will impose urine-testing conditions on individuals they identify as being at high risk for abusing controlled substances. Those who received the one-year time cut from RDAP will likely have to comply with those strict conditions for the first year of supervised release. The enhanced monitoring has a process as follows:
- The Probation Officer assigns a code and a phone number to the probationer.
- Every day, the probationer is instructed to dial the phone number and listen to the recording.
- If the recording indicates the probationer’s code, the probationer has 24 hours to report for a urine test.
At Prison Professor, we’ve worked with clients who were successful in persuading their Probation Officer to release them from the intrusive urine monitoring requirements after six months. Other clients remained on the intensive urine-testing program during their first year of liberty from the BOP.
In addition to more intensive requirements for urine testing, those who participated in the RDAP program may also have to submit to counseling programs. Some clients of Prison Professor reported that their Probation Officer required them to attend counseling sessions for courses that included:
- Anger Management
- Thinking for Change
- “MRT” — Moral Reconation Therapy
- Other Cognitive-behavioral Treatment Programs
While in the halfway house or on home confinement, the inmate did not have to pay for those counseling sessions. Yet once an individual finishes with the BOP, the Probation Officer may require the individual to pay for his training sessions. Those sessions can take a few hours out of each week and cut into the individual’s disposable income.
The Probation Officer will suggest a payment plan for individuals who have outstanding financial sanctions. At Prison Professor, some of our clients report making payments of $25 per month while others pay $1,000 per month. The Probation Officer will evaluate income and expenses when determining the appropriate payment schedule. That evaluation by Probation may result in uncomfortable questioning about finances. The Probation Officer may want to know about the individual’s financial resources, but also about financial resources that are available to a significant other. The Probation Officer also will look closely at expenditures to determine whether the individual can afford to pay more toward court-imposed financial obligations.
For individuals who owe extensive amounts as part of their financial sanction, the Probation Officer may demand financial information that is in addition to the monthly form described above. Some of that information may include:
- Annual financial statement,
- Signed copy of income tax returns,
- Signed release for Probation Officer to obtain a credit check.
Every U.S. Attorney’s Office has a “Financial Litigation Unit” (FLU). They may collect on a debt for 20 years after the judge imposed the financial sanction. When the judge imposed a prison term, that 20-year period doesn’t begin to count until after the individual has been released from the Bureau of Prisons. The FLU may garnish a portion of wages, garnish a portion of a spouse’s wages, garnish income tax returns, and put liens on personal property.
The Probation Officer will make sure that the individual knows that federal laws prohibit people who were convicted of a felony to own or possess a firearm. Being around firearms or ammunition not only subjects the individual to violations of Supervised Release, but new criminal charges that carry minimum prison terms of five years.
Except for travel related to employment, the Probation Officer may require the individual to remain within the judicial district for the first 90 days of his term on Supervised Release. If the Probation Officer agrees that the individual complies with the terms of supervision, the Probation Officer may authorize the individual to travel outside of the judicial district.
At Prison Professor, we can only speak generally about travel permissions. Each Probation Officer will make his or her own determination with regard to an individual’s suitability for travel. Individuals who owe financial obligations may have more difficulty obtaining permission to travel outside of the judicial district, except for employment reasons. One of our clients lived in California and he requested permission to visit his daughter in New York. The Probation Officer denied the travel request because the individual still owed a fine. Another client lived in Los Angeles and he asked permission to attend a Charger’s football game in San Diego, which is in a different judicial district. The Probation Officer denied the request, citing the outstanding financial obligation.
Probation Officers who choose to authorize travel requests will vary in how much notification they want. Some will only require a short email, with 24-hour notice to approve the request. Other Probation Officers may require the individual to complete a formal document, and provide at least two weeks advance notice. Those requests are specific for domestic travel. International travel requires permission from a Federal Judge, and individuals should budget at least one month to petition for such permission.
The Probation Officer will want to visit the inmate in his residence. During the visit, the Probation Officer will inspect the house, looking in every room. General conditions of Supervised Release require probationers to allow Probation Officers to search their home, vehicle, or person without a warrant or prior notification. At Prison Professor, our experts agree that compliant individuals face very little resistance or interference from the Probation Officer after the first few months pass. Some Probation Officers choose to visit the home unannounced, but as they get to know the individual, the supervision becomes far less intense. By the time an individual has worked with his Probation Officer for a period of several months successfully, the general consensus among our experts at Prison Professor is intrusions from Supervised Release basically vanish.
With 91 judicial districts in the United States, it’s entirely possible that an individual may want to reside in district that is different from the district where he was sentenced. If that is the case, the individual must make a formal request to his Probation Officer. Then the Probation Officer will contact a Probation Officer in the district where the individual wants to transfer. That call will result in a new investigation. The individual should have a residence and a verifiable job waiting in the new district before making a request to transfer jurisdictions.
Violating Conditions of Supervised Release:
The information we provide above applies to individuals Probation Officers perceive as being compliant. If the Probation Officer believes the individual fails to comply with rules of Supervised Release, or is engaged in ongoing criminal activity, the level of scrutiny will increase substantially.
If the Probation Officer believes the probationer violated a condition of Supervised Release, a series of formalities may follow. The Probation Officer can file a “Notice of Violation” which will set forth the “violation specifications.” The specifications detail the charges or allegations that Probation Officer makes.
Once the Probation Officer files the Notice of Violation, the individual must appear in court. Sometimes the Probation Officer will order the U.S. Marshals to take the probationer into custody before the court hearing. Then the entire nightmare of dealing with the criminal justice system begins again.
At the first appearance, the system will have a formal reading of the charges. Then the Judge will ask the individual to either admit or deny the specifications. If the individual denies that he violated conditions of Supervised Release, he is entitled to a hearing. But the hearing is different from a court proceeding in a criminal case. Violations of Supervised Release are considered “civil” rather than “criminal” matters. As such, the burden of proof is much lower. In a criminal matter, prosecutors must prove to a unanimous jury that a defendant is guilty “beyond a reasonable doubt.” Obviously, that doesn’t mean beyond “all doubt.” Members of a jury can still have a little doubt and still convict an individual of a crime. But the evidence is supposed to be sufficient enough that a reasonable person would infer guilt from the evidence.
With regard to charges that an individual violated conditions of Supervised Release, the judge will make the decision instead of a jury. In making his assessment, the Judge will use a standard-of-proof known as “preponderance of the evidence.” With that lower standard of proof, the judge will only have to determine that when considering the allegations, it seems more likely than not that the individual violated conditions of Supervised Release. And Judges frequently find that if a Probation Officer said there was a violation, then it is more likely than not that the individual violated the conditions of his release.
An individual who faces charges for violating conditions of Supervised Release should consult with a defense attorney on how best to proceed. Consequences for being found guilty can result in severe consequences. The Judge can revoke the term of Supervised Release and return him to prison. If an individual served 30 months of a 36-month term on Supervised Release, then violated his conditions of release, the Judge can still send him back to prison. Worse, the Judge may choose to impose another term of Supervised Release.
Early Termination of Supervised Release:
Some individuals succeed in being terminated early from their Supervised Release. At Prison Professor, Michael Santos wrote how his Probation Officer and an Assistant U.S. Attorney supported early termination from his Supervised Release. With their support, his defense attorney filed a motion in federal court, and a Judge terminated his term of Supervised Release on August 12, 2014; it was exactly one year after Michael completed his obligation to the BOP, on August 12, 2013.
Early termination is rare. An individual who aspires to have Supervised Release terminated early should begin preparing at the soonest possible time to build a record that would strengthen his motion to be cut free from the federal government early.
- In what ways do you envision Supervised Release influencing your life?
- How do you anticipate your employer would respond if your Probation Officer wanted to speak with him?
- How are you preparing your family members for the complexities of Supervised Release?
- What steps can you take now to influence the way your eventual Probation Officer will treat you?
- What steps can you envision taking now to advance the possibility of your earning early termination from your term on Supervised Release?