So, you’ve finished serving your sentence and are all excited to begin your new life as a free and liberated person.  Not so fast.  You now must contend with a period of Supervised Release.  The thing is, the law and order 1980s not only left us with the Frankenstein Monster of absurdly long sentences under the Sentencing Guidelines, they also added on a hidden term of the old parole, just to add to the misery.  The term can be from as little as six months to as long as the rest of your life, with the average about three years.  Until it’s over, you’re subject to the supervision of a probation officer and your life is still full of numerous restrictions. She or he, checks out your house, yet again, and explains all the new rules.  You may think you’re free but that’s not exactly the case.  The general restrictions are as follows:

  1. You need to report to your parole officer within 72 hours of the end of your sentence.
  2. You may not leave the limits of the judicial district without written permission from your probation officer.[1]
  3.  You must notify your probation officer within two days of changing addresses.
  4. You need to file a monthly report with your probation officer by the third day of each new month.
  5. You cannot violate any law.
  6. You cannot associate with people engaged in crime.
  7. You must get in touch with your probation officer within two days if arrested or questioned by law enforcement.
  8. You cannot serve as an informant to law enforcement.
  9. You must have a job that satisfies your probation officer.
  10. You cannot drink alcoholic beverages to excess, use illegal drugs or frequent places where others use drugs.
  11. You cannot associate with people who have a criminal record without prior permission from your probation officer (which is particularly challenging because, really, who else have you known besides family, while you were away).[2]
  12. You cannot possess a firearm or ammunition.
  13. Your probation officer may confiscate any contraband that she or he finds around you.
  14. You must make a diligent effort to satisfy any fines or restitution orders.
  15. You must submit to a drug test when asked by your probation officer.

There may also be certain additional restrictions imposed by your judge, like not working on computer, accessing credit or being an officer of a public company, depending on your conviction.  Trips outside your judicial district are generally liberally granted after the initial 60 days.  It can be a hassle, though, since permission is required two weeks in advance.  International travel requires two months advance notice, is not liberally granted and must be approved by your judge.  If you want to move somewhere outside your judicial district, you can, but only with permission and you’ll be assigned a new probation officer in that area.

This is when you’ll notice that even the basics of putting your life back together are inordinately complicated.  Getting a job, renting an apartment and opening bank and brokerage accounts can prove impossible as you’re flagged on every application.  Plus, you’ll likely also have a restriction on using credit during Supervised Release, making it extremely difficult to repair your credit.  Even getting health insurance costs significantly more.  Then there’s dating.  Be prepared to be Googled and rejected without even knowing it.  

Any restitution you owe must now be paid in accordance with the terms of your sentence.[3]  The probation officer will hold you strictly accountable and will violate you if you play any games.  In fact, violation of any terms of Supervised Release, will lead to a date with your judge and can return you to prison, for up to the term of your Supervised Release.  Owning a gun is another strict “no-no”.  You don’t even want to be in the vicinity of one.  A loose firearm under a friend’s car seat or even stray bullets can be a major problem, regardless of what your crime was.  You’ve forfeited all Second Amendment rights.   

As for all these restrictions, please remember that the regular rules of evidence no longer apply.  Your judge doesn’t need concrete proof you violated because mere strong suspicion will do.  You’re still on their time.  On the opposite side of the coin, many judges are also open to terminating Supervised Release early if you’re infraction free and demonstrate model behavior, especially if there’s no restitution or if it’s fully paid up. 

For most people, Supervised Release is fairly innocuous, provided you strictly comply with the rules.  However, a sizable percentage of former inmates do get jammed up without even seeing it coming.

To begin with, probation officers can call at any time, drug test you at any time, and show up at your home or work at any time.  That’s pretty intrusive and some people don’t take to it all that well.  “Damn, I’ve already done my time.”  Other prime areas for problems are the monthly report including financial statements and notifying your probation officer of any inadvertent contact with other felons.  Have you forgotten something or someone?  While most probation officers aren’t actively looking to jam you up, pitfalls abound around every corner.

Be careful who you get in a car with.  If you get stopped by the police and anyone has a gun or drugs, your PO will most likely assume you knew and ask questions later.  Do you share a credit card with your spouse?  Let’s hope she or he can keep from charging anything on those joint credit cards.  Then there are scenarios you would never imagine.  Scott L. had the misfortune of driving his girlfriend’s expensive car without prior permission.  While Steve G. was violated because he was one of six partners in a loan company that failed to inform borrowers that Steve was a former convicted felon.  Who knew there was such a rule?  Finally, Hal K., otherwise known as the alligator whisperer (feel free to Google him), was violated for petting a wild alligator in the Everglade National Reserve.  I kid you not. 

Once you’ve been violated you’ve practically lost from the get-go.  You’re immediately arrested, handcuffed and sent back to the Federal Detention Center or County Jail to be dealt with by your judge.  However, now you have even less rights than before.  There’s no discovery nor rules of evidence and you can be forced to testify against yourself in questions posed by the Judge, AUSA and your probation officer.  The probation officer’s belief is given great weight and be careful what you say because you can get hit with another charge for perjury if you’re not careful.

It’s guesstimated that between one-third and one-half of all former inmates are violated.  Those violations can result in just a warning (of course, after you’ve been arrested, detained and had to wait a week or so to see your judge), or additional prison time, followed by the imposition of even more Supervised Release.  Some judges give you the option of simply serving out the rest of your Supervised Release in prison, but most prefer not to, using Supervised Release as ongoing punishment.  One person I read about was on his 14th year of a 3-year Supervised Release, revolving in and out of the door of criminal justice.


[1] For me that was all of Southeast Florida from Jupiter to Key West.

[2] This is almost impossible nowadays given the fact that over 10 percent of Americans have a record of some sort.

[3] Once Supervised Release terminates, you still owe the restitution but there’s no one remaining to hold you accountable.  Many people stop paying at this point with no repercussions, unless you earn some huge, public financial windfall, like what happened to Jordan Belfort, the Wolf of Wall Street.