The Difference Between Federal Prison and Federal Supervised Release

Defining Federal Probation Against Incarceration

A question clients often ask here at PCR Consultants is how we convince District Courts to grant release orders for our clients. Our rates of success are the same or higher than those of defendants who hire expensive law firms to accomplish the same thing.

The not-so-secret answer comes from the United States Code and the very definition of supervision itself. Stick with this article because dull statutes turn into clear, powerful answers Quickly.

Understanding What Supervision is, and What it Isn’t

Lets begin with the assumption that supervised release and incarceration are different. Similar, but different. This might seem obvious, but the meaning behind this fact might not be so obvious.

Take for instance the law that authorizes sentence reductions versus the law that authorizes early termination of supervision. Both come from Title 18 U.S. Code. Sentence reductions are made via §3582 requests, while supervised release early terminations are made via the very next section: §3583.

Basically, asking a judge to terminate a sentence of federal supervision early is simply a low-grade sentencing reduction. A judge will order the early termination, but what he is really doing is reducing the length of a supervised release sentence to “time served”. A judge can legally do this whenever a defendant has successfully completed more than one year on supervision.

The One BIG Difference

Making a decision on an incarceration sentence reduction (via §3582) requires a judge to consider all 9 of the same factors that he/she did during the original sentencing hearing. However – and this point is IMPORTANT – making an early termination of probation decision only considers 8 of these 9 factors.

Which one is missing? Glad you asked. Of the nine sentence factors contained in §3553(a), the singe factor that is missing from supervised release is §§(a)(2)(A): “the need for the sentence imposed – to reflect the seriousness of the offense, to promote respect for the law, and to provide just punishment for the offense;”

So absent this condition, supervision isn’t part of punishment and making a determination on whether to let a defendant off of his/her supervision prior to it’s full term CANNOT reflect on the seriousness of the original offense, or be part of the punishment of that offense. Even the Supreme Court weighed in on this in the 2000 case of Johnson v. United States which calls supervised release the “decompression state” between incarceration and full release.

Putting it all together

All of this logic goes together very nicely.

  1. If terminating supervised release is a mild form of re-sentencing; and,
  2. If supervised release can’t be considered part of the punishment for a crime; and,
  3. If the sentencing judge cannot consider the seriousness of the original crime; and,
  4. Supervised release is intended to be the “decompression state” between incarceration and full release;

…Then it doesn’t matter what you did or who you were at sentencing. If you are out of prison, with stable home, job, support structure, etc. then the decompression period is over and there is no further need for supervision. A judge can’t simply keep a defendant on supervision because the crime of conviction was [fill-in-the-blank], and that is good news for our clients.

To learn all about getting off of federal probation early, visit PCR Consultants.

Federal Supervised Release


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