What to do when your probation officer is not properly communicating with you
Updated: Jun 5
As a criminal defense attorney, I regularly get calls from concerned people who are on probation and are unable to get ahold of their probation officer. Usually the people say, “My probation officer is not answering the phone” or “My probation officer is not returning my voice mails. What should I do?”
Why your probation officer is not returning calls
Do not automatically think it’s because your probation officer doesn’t like you or wants to violate you. Although sometimes this may be true, it is not usually true! Probation officers have hundreds of people they deal with (not just probationers, but also cops, prosecutors, and judges). They also have some extraordinarily difficult people they deal with. P.O.'s sometimes take on a gruff exterior and can be unfriendly. This does not mean they don’t like you, it’s just the way some people adapt to dealing with difficult people regularly.
The main reason why probation officers do not return calls right away is that they get a ton of calls! Imagine going back to your office and having 30 plus voice mails--half of them are rude, a few of them are apparently intoxicated, and most of them are claiming to be emergencies! You are going to prioritize: first call back the important ones and get to the others later. Therefore, give the probation officer a few days to get back to you, they probably will. If not, keep reading.
Document every attempted contact-every call, every email, every office visit
Write down whenever you attempt to contact your probation officer. On a piece of paper, write the date and time, the method of contact (phone call, email, office visit, etc.), the reason for the contact, and what happened (left a voice mail, spoke to a front desk person, etc.)
The reason you want to do this is so that you later have some proof of your attempts to contact probation. If you end up in court in front of a judge, and there is a probation officer claiming they had no contact with you, it will look really good if your attorney has proof of the exact date and times that you did in fact try to reach your probation officer, but the officer was “unavailable.”
Try to get the P.O.’s email address
I generally advise people on probation to attempt to email the probation officer (if possible) rather than to call them. Emails can be strong evidence. They can prove that you did reach out, for a specific issue or with a specific question, and provide the unrefuted date and time with which you did so. Even if you can prove with phone records that you called the probation office, there is not proof with a phone record as to the contents of the communication.
Call a criminal defense attorney
Depending on what your issue is, if there is any risk, threat, or possibility of your probation being violated, you should definitely reach out to a criminal defense attorney. A criminal defense attorney can contact a probation officer on your behalf. A criminal defense attorney can tell the judge, if necessary, what’s going on. An attorney can often answer your probation related questions without you having to deal with the probation officer.
Keep in mind that there also may be circumstances when you do not want to contact probation. For instance, if there is something that you may inadvertently say that could be incriminating or used against you later in a probation violation hearing, then you should definitely call a criminal defense lawyer first before calling your probation officer.
File a motion with the Judge
This is almost always better left to a criminal defense attorney, but in the event that there is an important issue that you need addressed, you can file a motion and have a hearing with a judge to address it. Common motions are Motions to Modify Probation (to change the terms of probation in some way) and Motions to Early Terminate Probation (to end it early). Be sure to address the issue with the judge before there is a probation violation, do not wait until it is too late!
Go to the probation office
If all attempts to reach your probation officer via phone calls or email fail, you can always go to the probation office. Most offices here in Florida have an “on call” or "on duty" officer whose job is to deal with the issues that arise that day at the office. Often this probation officer can answer your questions or at least get a message directly to your probation officer.
Ask for a supervisor
Probation officers have supervisors they answer to. In my opinion, you do not want to be picking up the phone and calling a supervisor because your probation officer did not call you back a few times! This is something you should only choose to do after egregious conduct.
In fact, I would definitely recommend calling a criminal defense lawyer before you call a supervisor and rat out your probation officer. A criminal defense attorney can give you a better idea if this a good idea or not!
With that said, sometime you are left with no other option but to complain and if you are having significant and serious issues with your probation officer then you may have to address them with a supervisor.
Be a “squeaky wheel”
Last, but definitely not least, be a “squeaky wheel.” The squeaky wheel gets greased. What this means is do not call once and then give up and say, “my probation officer is not calling me back, this is B.S.!” and then completely quit. If it is an important issue, call daily. But remember, when you call, be polite!
If you are a jerk to anyone in life, you’re going to be treated like a jerk back. The same thing goes with probation officers. If you are going to be the squeaky wheel and call regularly, just make sure that your messages are overly polite so that it is not perceived that you are being rude and harassing the probation officer.
As an attorney with an important issue, if I do not get a call back within a reasonable time, I will call every few days, until I do. I may also send an email or two. Remember a probation officer may have hundreds of probationers to supervise. They may get dozens of voice mails and emails a day. It may not be that you are being ignored, your voice mails may have just gotten lost among many other voice mails.