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Federal Probation System Affected by Sequester

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC

Mr. MAFFEI. On March 14, Lori Bresnahan, a school librarian who lived in my district, and a 10-year-old child were attacked in a shopping center parking lot.

The attacker was facing Federal child pornography charges and was out on bail and ordered to wear an electronic monitoring bracelet. He disabled the bracelet, stabbed Ms. Bresnahan to death and sexually assaulted the young girl.

It was later found that he had tampered with the bracelet 47 times, and each time, the Federal probation office in Syracuse did not respond. I wrote to the administrative office of the United States Courts, asking them to investigate this gross negligence. This is their response:

The Director says, ``Nothing can excuse the deficiencies in the supervision of this case,'' but he also says, ``Reduced resources due to the sequester is harming the efforts to keep it from happening again.'' He continued, ``We are bracing for even larger reductions next year.''

An innocent woman was stabbed to death, an innocent child was sexually assaulted, and the answer from the courts is that their ability to keep it from happening again is limited because their funding was cut. This is unacceptable. To Lori Bresnahan and that young girl, we owe a full investigation, not excuses.

Mr. Speaker, we owe them the guarantee that this cannot happen again. We owe them an end to the sequester cuts, which are affecting our Federal probation system.



Washington, DC, June 14, 2013.
Hon. Dan Maffei,
U.S. House of Representatives,
Washington, DC 20515.

Dear Representative Maffei: I write in response to your letters to the Judicial Conference of the United States and to me as Director of the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts (AO). We share your grave concern with the crimes attributed to David Renz, a defendant under pretrial supervision and electronic monitoring by the federal probation office in Syracuse, New York.

While nothing can diminish the severity of crimes attributed to David Renz or excuse the deficiencies in supervision of his case, our view--based on our knowledge from regular program reviews in the field and other ongoing communication with field offices from around the country--is that David Renz was not supervised in a manner typical of federal probation and pretrial services practices. The vast majority of the 200,000 defendants and offenders supervised every year r[Page: S5100][Page: S5100]emain arrest-free and comply with the conditions imposed by their supervising court. In instances where they are returned to prison, it is most often for technical violations (such as refusing to participate in treatment or associating with a known felon) rather than for new crimes. Such success does not come easily when dealing with high-risk defendants and offenders, and reflects the hard work of many dedicated employees of the Judiciary.

Probation officers carry out their duties pursuant to statutes enacted by Congress and policies approved by the Judicial Conference. The AO is responsible for, among other things, investigating the work of probation and pretrial services offices and advising courts about Judicial Conference policies and best practices. As you know, the AO initiated an investigation into the handling of the Renz case shortly after learning of his rearrest. On April 9, 2013, a report based on that investigation--which included a number of findings that you cited in your letters--was submitted to the chief judge of the Northern District of New York, who directly supervises the probation office in that district. The chief judge has the authority to take personnel action and make other changes. We also re-submitted to the chief judge an earlier ``program review'' report, describing the work of the probation office in 2010. In the interest of transparency and public awareness, the court posted the report on their website.

We reported to the chief judge that the probation office failed to make desired changes following the 2010 program review but, in consultation with the chief judge and the AO, the probation office has made substantial changes in response to our findings and recommendations in the 2013 report. Those changes have included dismissing and demoting certain probation office personnel, reorganizing the office's location monitoring unit, retraining staff, and inviting in a technical assistance team from the AO for consultation and training. In addition, the probation office indicated that it will cooperate fully with cyclical reinvestigations to be conducted (as funding permits) by the AO.

Nonetheless, the AO is in the process of reexamining policy for and reviewing the operations of probation and pretrial services offices with respect to location monitoring. We appreciate your offer to introduce supportive legislation. At this time, the Judicial Conference does not have legislative recommendations related to the location monitoring program. After we complete our policy review, we may seek assistance from Congress. Of note, we will need to work within available funding. Funding for salaries and operations in the probation and pretrial services system has been reduced 14 percent this fiscal year, and resources for location monitoring, mental health and substance abuse treatment have been cut 20 percent. We are bracing for even larger reductions next year, and the vacancy rate in probation and pretrial services offices now stands at 25 percent. Your continued support of our appropriation request is much appreciated.

The AO remains committed to public safety, and we appreciate your interest in our federal probation and pretrial services functions. If we may be of additional assistance, please do not hesitate to call our Office of Legislative Affairs at 202-502-1700.


Thomas F. Hogan,

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