How Federal Probation Works

If you have been convicted of a federal crime, you may be able to pursue a probation sentence instead of time in prison.  Probation still has many restrictions and requirements that you must meet. If you don’t follow the terms of your release, you risk being sent to prison. Here’s what you need to know about how federal probation works, standard rules for probation, and some of the biggest mistakes to avoid so that you can maintain your freedom.

What Is Federal Probation?

Federal probation, sometimes called supervised release, is a sanction issued by a criminal court against people convicted of certain crimes. Instead of forcing you to remain in custody, a supervised release sentence allows you to stay in society as long as you follow strict rules regarding your behavior and communication with your probationary officer. You can usually continue living in your own home, going to work, and generally following your routine with a few critical changes. 

Probation may be an alternative to prison sentences or part of a sentence that also includes prison time. Under Title 18 of the U.S. Code, people may be sentenced to probation for any crimes below Class A or B felonies or crimes that explicitly bar supervised release. 

For example, any federal crime that may be punished by 25 years in prison is at least a Class B felony and is not eligible for supervised release. This includes crimes such as drug trafficking and assault. However, crimes such as embezzlement are not penalized as harshly, and supervised release may be issued instead, depending on the circumstances of the crime. 

Common Terms of Federal Probation

The rules for supervised release vary depending on the crime for which you’ve been sentenced and the other circumstances of your sentencing. If you have already been sentenced to home confinement or supervised release, talk to your attorney and an experienced prison consultant to understand the terms of your specific sentence.

If you believe you may be sentenced to probation in the future, it is in your best interest to understand some of the most common terms of supervised release and what they require you to do. Standard conditions include:

  • Mandatory reporting to your probation officer on a specific schedule.
  • Mandatory visits from your officer, either on a schedule or at random.
  • Mandatory drug and alcohol tests.
  • Financial reporting requirements and spending restrictions.
  • Restrictions on leaving the judicial district without permission.
  • Requirements to report changes in residence or employer. 
  • Bans on communicating with known felons.
  • Bans on owning firearms.

In addition to these standard clauses, you may also be subject to special conditions of supervision. These may include mandatory enrollment in mental health or substance abuse treatment, parenting classes, anger management classes, financial obligations or restrictions, restrictions on where you can work, and potentially wearing a location monitoring device like an ankle bracelet. Failing to abide by these terms is considered a probationary violation and may lead to significant penalties or even a prison sentence.

Biggest Probation Mistakes

When you’re on probation, you may not treat your restrictions as seriously as you should. That can lead you to make mistakes that put you at risk of being sent to prison. Some of the worst mistakes you can make while on probation include:

  • Failing to appear at meetings with your officer.
  • Failing to complete mandatory counseling or treatment courses.
  • Failing a drug or alcohol test. You must report and be approved for any prescription medication.
  • Traveling without permission or visiting places from which you have been restricted. 
  • Being arrested for another criminal offense. 

These violations demonstrate that you are not taking your sentence seriously and may lead your probation officer to recommend that you serve the rest of your sentence in prison.

Learn More About Managing Probation

Probation is restrictive, but it’s significantly better than prison. If you are pursuing supervised release after being charged or convicted of a crime, you can consult with the prison consultants and mitigation experts at Liberty Advisors, LLC. Our founder, Tara Lenich, will work with you and your defense attorney to mitigate your criminal sentence and explain what you need to know about your sentence. Contact our New York office by calling 347-673-0953 or emailing us to schedule your consultation and discover how we can assist you. 


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