Overview of Federal Pretrial Services Initiatives from the Vantage Point of the Criminal Law Committee

By Vance, Stephen E. | Federal Probation, September 2018 | Go to article overview

Overview of Federal Pretrial Services Initiatives from the Vantage Point of the Criminal Law Committee


Vance, Stephen E., Federal Probation


THE JUDICIAL CONFERENCE of the United States was created by Congress in 1922 to make national policy for the administration of the federal courts, including the probation and pretrial services system.1 One of its committees, the Criminal Law Committee, reviews issues relating to the administration of the criminal law and oversees the federal probation and pretrial services system. This includes, among other responsibilities, proposing policies and standards on issues affecting the probation and pretrial services system and reviewing pending legislation relating to the administration of criminal law.

There is a series of noteworthy national initiatives related to the federal pretrial services system, which can be summarized from the vantage point of the Criminal Law Committee. In particular, the Committee has monitored and made recommendations regarding: (1) pretrial diversion programs; (2) judge-involved supervision programs modeled after problem-solving courts in the states; (3) the use of data-driven strategies to reduce unnecessary pretrial detention; and (4) proposed legislation regarding the statutory presumption of detention.

I.Pretrial Diversion Programs

Pretrial diversion is an alternative to prosecution that, at the discretion of the United States Attorney's Office, diverts certain persons from traditional criminal justice processing into a program of supervision and services administered by the probation and pretrial services system. The United States Attorney's Office may formally decline or initiate prosecution depending on whether the program requirements are satisfied. The objectives of pretrial diversion supervision are to ensure that the divertee satisfies the terms of the pretrial diversion agreement and to provide the divertee with support services to help facilitate the divertee's compliance with supervision and reduce the likelihood that the divertee will recidivate. The statutory functions and powers related to pretrial services officers include collecting, verifying, and preparing reports for the United States Attorneys Office of information pertaining to the pretrial diversion of any individual who is or may be charged with an offense.2

The Judicial Conference of the United States has supported alternatives to criminal prosecution for several decades.3 More recently, former Chair of the Criminal Law Committee Judge Irene M. Keeley of the Northern District of West Virginia testified before the Charles Colson Task Force on Federal Corrections that pretrial diversion is a potentially underutilized program in the federal criminal justice system.4 Noting that less than one percent of activated cases are pretrial diversions, Judge Keeley expressed the Criminal Law Committee's readiness to work with the Department of Justice to discuss ways to increase the number of individuals participating in the pretrial diversion program.5

II.Judge-Involved Supervision Programs

Since 2008, as part of its continuing exploration of evidence-based practices and its commitment to using empirical data to make programmatic resource decisions, the Criminal Law Committee has been discussing judge-involved supervision programs in the federal system.6 These programs are modeled on "problem-solving courts" used by state and local governments since the 1980s. They operate at different stages of the criminal justice process and go by many names, including "pretrial diversion court programs," "drug court programs," "alternative-to-incarceration court programs," and "reentry court programs." In 2008, one type of judge-involved supervision program-post-conviction reentry court programs-had been implemented by 21 federal districts and was under development in another 31 districts.

As the Criminal Law Committee stated in its September 2009 report to the Judicial Conference, these federal reentry court programs "reveal an energetic commitment to the betterment of federal offenders and an enthusiasm that should be commended. …

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