How Budget Cuts are Affecting Federal Probation Officers

Court officials are bemoaning cuts to the federal budget that they say have already jeopardized public safety. And more cuts are set to take place.

Probation and pretrial services officials, those professionals responsible for overseeing individuals convicted of federal crimes, have reported that they have had to scale back on testing and treatment of these offenders while struggling to provide basic checks.

Increasing Workloads, Shrinking Budgets

Chief Judge Anne C. Conway, along with 86 chief federal judges, is calling on Congress to help the federal probation and pretrial services. Chief Conway stated that current staffing is at its lowest point since 1999, despite a swiftly increasing workload.

More federal cutbacks, according to Conway, mean less detection and deterrence activities for federal offenders in the community. As one pretrial services officer said, “There’s only so much stress you can put on officers.” Officers include both federal pretrial services officers, who are charged with monitoring defendants awaiting trial, and probation officers, who must keep track of federal offenders who are serving probation sentences after serving federal prison terms.

Cuts to Important Probation Services

Just a few of the monitoring activities undertaken by these federal officers include electronic monitoring, counseling, and therapy. The majority of probation and pretrial services offices have been proactive with their cuts, finding smarter and more efficient ways to accomplish their missions in preparation for future cuts, but the cuts have been far more devastating than they had anticipated.

One of the largest hit came when the part of the budget that covered drug tests, mental health treatment, and electronic monitoring was cut by 20 percent. As such, officers must prioritize available treatment and give it only to those offenders deemed to be a higher risk.

These cuts come at a time when probation officers are experiencing expanding caseloads. For example, a probation officer’s average caseload has increased from 50.5 in 2009 to 57.3 today, while pretrial services officers have experienced an increase in their average caseload from 33 in 2009 to 52 in 2013.