What is a Pretrial Services Officer?

Pretrial Service Meeting

Did you know that approximately 300 jurisdictions, including federal, state and county court systems, have pretrial service programs?

“As a Pretrial Services Officer, I am usually the first contact that a defendant has with the U.S. Courts. We are dealing with a population that has been accused of a crime, but are innocent until proven guilty.”

~ U.S. Pretrial Services Officer Charles Miseler (last name spelling unknown), as stated in a United States Courts video called ‘Probation and Pretrial Services’.

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Federal, state and municipal jurisdictions that have pretrial service programs are staffed by pretrial services officers. Similar job titles may include pretrial interviewers, intake officers, pretrial investigators, pretrial program specialists, release assistant officers, among others.

The primary roles of pretrial services is to perform background investigations on defendants, make recommendations to the court on whether they should be released on bail or remain in custody before the trial and to supervise those who are released while they await trial.

According to the American Probation and Parole Association (APPA), a 2009 survey revealed that 35 percent of Pretrial Service Programs are administered by probation departments.

What do Pretrial Service Officers Do?

“By statute, probation and pretrial services officers serve as law enforcement officers in the judiciary,” states the United States Courts, adding that they “work on the frontlines” of “offender supervision” and they “assist in the administration of justice and promote community safety.”

Some typical duties of a pretrial services officer include:

  • Conducting interviews with defendants, as well as with other individuals affiliated with them, to find out information on the defendant’s family life, education, employment, mental and physical health, substance use, financial status and other important information.
  • Performing criminal background checks and review relevant records, such as employment, court, education, financial and military records.
  • Administering drug/alcohol tests.
  • Maintaining detailed case files.
  • Preparing reports for court officials outlining recommendations on whether a defendant should be released or detained before the trial, and if released providing recommendations for release conditions.
  • Communicating with attorneys, law enforcement officers, courtroom personnel and other professionals.
  • Supervising defendants released on bail through in person meetings and phone conversations.
  • Helping the released defendants access physical or mental health, substance abuse, employment and other services they may require.

Pretrial Service Officer Qualifications

The qualifications needed to become a pretrial services officer will vary by jurisdiction/employer. Some general credentials may include:

  • Bachelor’s degree in Criminal Justice, Psychology, Criminology, Sociology, Social Services or a related field.
  • Two to three years of relevant experience (working in a criminal justice, counseling, community corrections, social service, law enforcement or a related field) preferred or required.
  • Knowledge of the criminal justice system, casework, investigation techniques and pretrial guidelines/regulations/statutes.
  • After being hired, pretrial service officers usually have to become certified to access the appropriate federal or state crime information center databases.

Getting Your Foot in the Door

When applying for a pretrial service officer position, to meet the previous experience qualification preferred or required by employers, there are some entry-level positions you may wish to consider working in first. These include, Pretrial Services Officer Assistant, Probation Services Assistant, Probation Clerk/Support Specialist, Pretrial Services Technician, Social and Human Service Assistant, Substance Abuse Counselor, an Intern for a Community Corrections/Pretrial Services Department and other related positions.