Prisoners are persons whom most of us would rather not think about. Banished from everyday sight, they exist in a shadow world that only dimly enters our awareness. They are members of a "total institution" that controls their daily existence in a way that few of us can imagine. "[P]rison is a complex of physical arrangements and of measures, all wholly governmental, all wholly performed by agents of government, which determine the total existence of certain human beings (except perhaps in the realm of the spirit, and inevitably there as well) from sundown to sundown, sleeping, walking, speaking, silent, working, playing, viewing, eating, voiding, reading, alone, with others. . . ." It is thus easy to think of prisoners as members of a separate netherworld, driven by its own demands, ordered by its own customs, ruled by those whose claim to power rests on raw necessity. -- Justice William Brennan, dissenting in O’Lone v. Estate of Shabazz, 482 U.S. 342, 354-55 (1987).

Sunday, August 3, 2008

International Travel and Supervised Release

One of the conditions of supervised release is that all travel outside of your home district must be approved by your probation officer.

In my case, this has always been routine. I simply notify him of my travel plans in advance and he gives me a permission to travel document (see example here). This document isn't really necessary for me to carry but is for my own benefit in case an issue arises while I am traveling and a police officer, if he somehow determines my status as a convicted felon on supervised release, inquires why I am out of my district, I can show him the document. Without the document, I might be detained until he can contact the US Probation Office to confirm my story.

In addition to providing the travel document, the US Probation Office in the district(s) I am traveling to is notified that I will be in their district. Again, this is mostly a formality.

International travel, however, is a different matter. All international travel must be approved directly by the judge.

I notified my PO in January that I had plans for two international trips this year: a 3-week vacation to Greece and Spain with my wife and her sister in July and a 1-week Caribbean wedding cruise for a friend in late October.

One of the complicating factors in my case is that the US Probation Office in Charlotte, NC (Western District of NC) actively supervises my release, however, my case is still under the control of Philadelphia (Eastern District of PA). That means the my probation officer has to go through another district's probation office in order to get approval from the judge. The approval process within this district is usually 7-10 days. However, due to the uncertainty of working with another district, my PO recommended beginning the process early.

I supplied my general travel itinerary in late February and my PO forwarded the request in early March.

Then we waited... and waited... and waited.

Finally May arrives and we still haven't heard anything. Our flights for Greece leave July 9 and I had already gone ahead and purchased tickets for fear that the flights would sell out. I knew this was a risk if the judge ended up turning down my request but in that case we figured my wife would just go with her sister.

It wasn't clear where the hold-up was -- with the US Probation Office in Philadelphia or with the Judge. We simply didn't know where the paperwork was and it is a little bit delicate to push the issue too hard for fear of offending someone and having them delay things further.

Finally, on May 9 we received a letter from the US Probation Officer in Philadelphia who apparently had been assigned my case as a result of this request (since their office did not actively supervise my case, no officer had previously been assigned). This letter included approval from the judge for my trip but interestingly also included a request to transfer jurisdiction to my home district.

For reasons I will explain later, we did not act on their request to transfer jurisdiction but the important thing at the moment was that I had received permission to travel outside the country. The prosecutor apparently had been consulted and he did not object as long as I had been satisfying all my conditions of supervised release.

All's well that ends well... except, the drama was not yet over.

At the end of May, I visited my PO to turn in my monthly report. Normally, I fax my report in but I wanted to complete the final of the 3 required drug tests. In addition, I asked for the return of my passport which I would of course need for my trip overseas. I had turned my passport over to my pre-trial services (PTS) officer in August, 2006 after I was indicted. My PO was not sure where it was now but we ran into the PTS officer in the hall and she indicated that she had forwarded it to Philadelphia.


My PO made a few phone calls to his alter ego in Philadelphia who tracked the passport down in the Clerk of Court's Office. However, he said they could not release it without a court order!


My PO (and, later, my lawyer) explained that we had a document from the judge granting permission to travel. Isn't that good enough? Apparently not. They want an actual court order.

On June 16 (3 weeks prior to my departure!), my lawyer filed a motion to release my passport.

On June 23, the judge signed an order releasing my passport. The order also included, as we requested, permission to keep my passport for the remained of my term of supervised release. This was important because the clerk of court would have expected me to return my passport upon return from my trip and then obtain ANOTHER court order to obtain my passport again for my October cruise that I had also already obtained permission for.


In this district, apparently, my PO could have simply taken the judge's original letter approving the travel over to the clerk's office and they would have released the passport.

In any case, after almost 4 months of jumping through hoops, I had my permission to travel and I had my passport (after my lawyer retrieved it from the clerk's office and fedexed it to me).

I will write separately on my trip.

Now, as to the issue of transferring jurisdiction as well as completing my final drug test.

June 28 represented the one year anniversary of my release from prison and the beginning of my 3 year term of supervised release. By statute, I can request early termination of my supervised release after one year, which I intended to do. By completing my final drug test, my PO could certify that I have complied with all the conditions of my supervised release.

However, if jurisdiction was transferred, then I would have to make that request in this district. The official policy of this district is that early termination is only recommended after 2/3 of the term is completed (in my case, that would be 2 years). In Philadelphia, the policy is 1/2 (in my case, that would be 18 months). Furthermore, Judge Davis had ruled favorably on every issue we presented to him in this case so I was cautiously optimistic that he would likewise give favorable consideration to a request for early termination, especially if well presented. Thus, I was reluctant to have jurisdiction transferred to NC when I felt I had a more favorable environment for my early termination motion in Philadelphia.

For the story on how that turned out, you will have to read my next post :)


Anonymous said...

There should be better ways of getting this kind of information to federal inmates, who dont have access to computers. This is very important information for family's of federal inmates to know.

FiyaKeez said...

Thank you so much for this information. I'm sure it will not only help me but others facing "Supervised Release" and looking to find answers to early termination.

oldgeezer said...

The info was very helpful and whatever did you expect from a government employee that cannot get together unless for a raise in their pay or benefits? Thank you