New Support for the Early Termination of Supervised Release

Federal defendants sentenced to a term of imprisonment are typically subject to a period of post-release supervision known as supervised release. While the length of a supervised release term is governed by statute and the Sentencing Guidelines, several years or more is common. By law, a court can terminate a term of supervised release after one year “if it is satisfied that such action is warranted by the conduct of the defendant released and the interest of justice.” Obtaining early termination is often easier said than done.

This month’s issue of the Federal Probation Journal (a generally excellent resource) includes an article that provides useful empirical support for the early termination of supervised release:

Results from the AO’s most recent study of offenders terminated in 2008 are compelling. The results suggest that offenders granted early termination under the current policies pose no greater danger to the community than offenders who serve a full term of supervision. These findings reaffirm the notion that early termination policies allow officers to make responsible decisions about which offenders to recommend for an early termination of their supervision term. Nearly twice as many full-term offenders were rearrested for major or minor offenses within three years as their counterparts who were terminated early (19.2 percent versus 10.2 percent respectively, see Table 5). When minor offenses are excluded from the tabulations, the relative proportion of rearrest rates for the two groups remains consistent, but the rates themselves are considerably lower for both groups. Specifically, only 5.9 percent of early-termed offenders were rearrested for major offenses compared to 12.2 percent of their full-term counterparts (Table 6). This suggests that probation officers should strongly consider offenders’ actuarially predicted risk in the decision to recommend early termination of supervision.

Not only are early-terminated offenders arrested less frequently than their full-term counterparts, the time to rearrest is slightly greater. Specifically, early-term offenders remained arrest free for an average of 19.4 months compared to 18.8 for those who were full term. (See Table 8. Median times to arrest were 18 months for full term and 21 months for early term.) Further, the proportions of the types of offenses that constituted the arrests were nearly identical for both groups. For both groups, drug, property, and violent offenses comprised over 85 percent of all first arrests (Figure 2).

Because early termination criteria heavily favor persons at low risk to recidivate as indicated by the RPI or Post Conviction Risk Assessment (PCRA), approximately three-quarters (74.4 percent) of the offenders in this study group were low risk, 23.7 percent were medium risk, and 1.8 percent were high risk (Table 4). Overall, of the 423 offenders who were arrested from both comparison groups, high-risk offenders accounted for nearly 40 percent (38.5 percent) of those who were rearrested in the follow-up period (Table 9). In comparison, low-risk offenders accounted for 10.5 percent of those rearrested.

Perhaps more significantly, the results of the study indicate that while the early termination policy does not, as currently administered, compromise community safety, the attributable cost avoidance is significant. Although early-terminated offenders in the study originally received longer supervision sentences by approximately a year (39.8 months versus 27.8 months, see Table 10), on average they served 3.8 fewer months than full-term offenders (24 months to 27.8 months, respectively). At the most-recently published monthly cost of supervision of $286.11 per offender, this equates to $1,087 per offender terminated early, for a total of $7,754,039 for the 7,132 offenders who received early termination in calendar year 2012 alone.

For those seeking early termination, experience has also shown it useful to consider and, where appropriate, reference the non-exhaustive list of criteria established by the Judicial Conference Committee on Criminal Law, chaired by then Chief Judge William Wilkins (4th Cir.):

  • stable community reintegration (e.g., residence, family, employment);
  • progressive strides toward supervision objectives and in compliance with all conditions of supervision;
  • no aggravated role in the offense of conviction, particularly large drug or fraud offenses;
  • no history of violence (e.g., sexually assaultive, predatory behavior, or domestic violence);
  • no recent arrests or convictions (including unresolved pending charges), or ongoing, uninterrupted patterns of criminal conduct;
  • no recent evidence of alcohol or drug abuse;
  • no recent psychiatric episodes;
  • no identifiable risk to the safety of any identifiable victim; and
  • no identifiable risk to public safety based on the Risk Prediction Index.
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