Niquita Loftis climbs ladder in federal probation department
Niquita Loftis had no idea walking into her undergraduate Probation and Parole course more than two decades ago would have her peering through a window to her future.
An officer from the U.S. Probation and Pretrial Services System visited the class as a guest speaker and shared information about her job, exposing Loftis to a position in the criminal justice system she hadn’t known about before.
“She told our class it’s different and unique from other federal law enforcement agencies because you work specifically for the federal judiciary,” Loftis says. “It doesn’t fall under the executive branch of the Department of Justice.”
It was the details of being a probation officer that really captured Loftis’ interest and imagination. In doing so, it started her on a path that – 20 years after earning her bachelor’s degree in criminology and criminal justice from the University of Missouri–St. Louis – has her occupying a supervisor position in the U.S. Probation Office for the District of Nevada in Las Vegas.
The speaker talked about the dual roles federal probation officers play.
One is to conduct pre-sentence investigations and use the federal sentencing guidelines to construct reports that federal judges use in determining sentencing of offenders. The other is to work with a caseload of parolees – typically 45 or 50 at a time – to assist them with re-entering society after their release from prison.
“That seemed really fascinating to me because I’m kind of bookish,” Loftis says. “So I was like, ‘Oh, I would love to just study the federal sentencing guidelines.’”
She also was drawn to courtroom dramas growing up, so the idea of playing a role in court proceedings was intriguing.
That became the primary focus of her work in the early part of her career with the federal probation department in St. Louis after earning a master’s degree in criminology and criminal justice from UMSL and spending a year with the state Division of Probation & Parole in Missouri.
She worked on several high-profile cases, including issuing the pre-sentence report for Michael J. Devlin in 2007. He was sentenced to 170 years in prison, to run consecutively with his state sentences, on federal charges related to the abduction of two Missouri boys.
“A large part of my job as an officer sure is part law enforcement, but it’s also part social worker,” she says. “We have to advocate for our clients. We have to make referrals to different agencies that may be able to assist them.”
Loftis, a mother of three, was wrapping up her fourth UMSL degree – a PhD in criminology and criminal justice – in the spring semester while also settling into the supervisor position she took last August.
Her dissertation examines the disparity of supervised release sentences of child pornography offenders in U.S. District Courts. It was inspired by her work, and she says the data analysis skills she acquired in the PhD program were key to her landing the job in Las Vegas.
“The PhD from UMSL again has opened the door for promotional opportunities and advancement,” Loftis says. “I hope that it will continue to open more doors because I definitely have aspirations beyond supervisor.”
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