More Federal Prison Releases Strain Probation Officers

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Some 5,500 federal probation officers oversee 180,000 convicted people. The push for shorter prison sentences is putting more work on the force, federal officials say, raising concerns that critical details might be missed that could prevent relapses among a high-risk population, reports the Wall Street Journal. Since 2010, 14,100 people have been freed early because of changes in sentencing law and policies, and the federal probation case load has increased 7 percent since 2010. The proportion of federal ex-inmates whose probation has been revoked dropped to 27 percent in 2015 from 29 percent in 2010.

That decline has been attributed in part to improved risk assessments that are more sophisticated than previous ones and include a wider array of factors, from an offender’s education levels to family makeup. Probation officials say the drop is due chiefly to the fact there are fewer officers, relative to the number of ex-inmates, to spot violations, so more offenders are remaining free. Criminologist Jack Levin of Northeastern University said the releases mean officers “will have larger caseloads that probably will reduce their effectiveness to some degree.” He added that it “does not mean that we’re going to see a precipitous crime wave in this country. I don’t think that’s going to happen.”

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