In the Australian judicial system, a pre sentence psychological report can be a good idea, writes Brisbane Psychologist Shelley Jacks …
What is a Pre Sentence Report?
A pre sentence report is written by a psychologist, and has two primary obejctives:
- to assist the court with understanding the factors which led to the offending behaviour; and,
- to give an idea about the likelihood of re-offending.
The report is used as a guide when it comes to sentencing options, and is usually provided to the magistrate or judge just prior to sentencing.
The pre sentence report usually contains sections with discussion about the client’s social history, education, employment, relationships, mental health, substance abuse and criminal history, as well as the current offence/s, risk of re-offending, and recommendations for treatment or reducing the likelihood of offending.
In order to complete the report, the psychologist might engage the client in various assessments to analyse risk of re-offending, treatment needs, personality issues, mental health, substance abuse, cognitive functioning, or anything else which might be relevant to the client’s individual circumstances.
Who asks for the Pre Sentence Report?
Sometimes a pre sentence report is requested by the court; other times the report can be sought by the client’s solicitor.
Clients often wonder about the benefit of obtaining a pre sentence report, and ultimately they should make their decision after obtaining some legal counsel.
However, after a number of years of preparing and writing pre sentence reports, I have seen a clear benefit to the court and the client.
The court obtains an objective overall picture of the client, their life, and the issues which may have led them to make the choices which culminated in the offending.
Is a Pre Sentence Report a Good Idea?
The benefit to the client is that the court has a detailed understanding of their situation, and as a result is able to sentence them appropriately.
The court is also able to hear if the client takes responsibility for their offending behaviour, if they are remorseful, if they have insight into their offences, and if they are willing to seek treatment. Sometimes the court will be considering a community-based order, but they require some insight into whether the client will respond well to this supervision, and engage with the Probation and Parole office in order to reduce their risk of re-offending.
There are times when the pre sentence report does not benefit the client, especially when the client does not take responsibility for their actions – blaming others, justifying their offending, or minimising the impact of the offence on the victim or the community. Additionally, if the client lacks insight, doesn’t see the need for treatment, or has a number of high risk indicators which increase the likelihood of offending, the court might consider the client to be a risk to the community and give the appropriate sentence for that determination.
However I have found that in the majority of cases, a pre sentence psychological report is of benefit to both the client and the court, and should be considered where the penalty is potentially a community-based order or a custodial sentence.
Author: Shelley Jacks, B Psych (Hons), AMAPS.
Shelley Jacks is a registered psychologist who worked for many years treating all types of offending in Queensland prisons. She has treated the highest risk sexual and violent offenders in the state and believes strongly that change and rehabilitation are possible.
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