Pre-sentence reports

In the criminal justice system, there are reports, and acronyms, coming out of your ears. One of the most important, especially when it comes to the difference in receiving a custodial sentence or a non-custodial sentence, is the pre-sentence report or to give it its typical name, a PSR.


A pre-sentence report is intended to give the sentencing court some understanding as to why you committed the offence, how you feel about it now, and what your background, family and work circumstances are. Using this information, the court will decide the most appropriate sentence to give you. It is important to note that the court does not have to go along with the recommendation in the report, and the ‘probation officer’s’ opinion is not binding on the type of sentence you get. This means, for example, that if you have committed a serious offence and the report recommends a lot of community punishment, you could still be sent to prison.

From 2004 to 2015, after spending several years on the out, I became trapped in the revolving door of prison and during that time, an area which suffered just as much as my relationship with probation, was the PSR. I have said before about deserving my time in prison, so this isn’t a complaint I always ended up in prison, but without a decent relationship with my probation practitioner it was almost impossible to tell them what I needed to help myself, instead, and with the thought prison was inevitable, I would take my PSR meeting as a joke.

The problem with PSRs and being stuck in the revolving door of prison is that a new PSR is not always necessarily needed and the magistrates, or judges in my cases, would rely on the most recent PSR written. One thing I do wonder when looking back is the difference I feel a peer worker would have made. A person with lived experience who could have sat me down and, for want of a better phrase, told me to stop being a fool.

It is quite easy to get caught up in your own bubble, or front even, especially when prison becomes more a reward than a punishment, and especially when with a fractured relationship, facing probation. I accept full responsibility for my role in the reasons the relationship I had with probation was fractured, however, not all the blame sits at my door.

I remember one certain probation practitioner, and one certain PSR. I knew custody was the only option when at the end of our meeting he told me that custody would be his recommendation, however, a few weeks later whilst sitting in the court cells (I was remand at the time) waiting to be called up for sentencing I was handed a copy of my PSR by my brief. Upon reading, I found myself nodding in agreement and accepting what had been written by my probation practitioner, who had been in the job 25 years, right up until I got to the last section, the sentence recommendation. A small piece of information my probation practitioner failed to give me was that along with recommending a custodial sentence, fair enough, he also recommended that my sentence be an EPP, Extended Sentence for Public Protection. I was not a happy bunny, and I was fortunate the judge didn’t agree, and I received a straightforward determinate sentence. (A determinate prison sentence is where the court sets a fixed length for the prison sentence.)

A few days later I was able to speak to my probation practitioner on the phone and he told me the reason he added the EPP part was when he got back to his office, after our meeting at the prison I was on remand, he had realised the seriousness of my crime and I was eligible for an EPP. After being released from this sentence at the halfway point, and with no relationship with this man, my licence was pointless, so I came out, sorted a few things out and got myself recalled so I could see out my sentence in prison and have nothing to do with probation. Because I never saw prison as a problem, recall also meant nothing. On a separate sentence I was recalled on, when probation came up to see me, I walked off the visit as I knew I would be staying until end of sentence and have no need for probation. The next day, my enhanced was taken from me for not engaging with probation. A few days after that I was shipped out. Please don’t get me wrong, I can look back and see what a fool to myself I was, but as I mentioned earlier, it isn’t as easy to see it for yourself when caught up in your own bubble.

Personally, I had no faith or trust in probation, but I am also confident in saying they didn’t have much faith or trust in me.

Pre-sentence reports are not only the ideal opportunity to divert someone away from prison, but they also provide a perfect opportunity to introduce peer support and the ideal time to begin to build a positive relationship built on strengths and aspirations.


2 thoughts on “Pre-sentence reports

  1. I have to say David I have always been a bit dubious about pre sentence reports, because I felt that anyone clued in could play the game and ensure they tick all the right boxes in their replies, whereas other people do not. It was fortunate, and quite right too, that the judge you quote seemed to have a similarly doubting approach to them and rejected their advice, which was clearly the right decision.
    My own personal experience of probation officers is that they have a difficult task, likely to be blamed if something goes wrong and so some are over cautious, and do not allow people any leeway. One officer I met told me that every time she heard of a major crime in east London her immediate thought was that it might be someone under her supervision, and that she knew if it was the blame would drop on her. Certainly we see how probation are blamed when something goes wrong, so it is understandable when they err on the side of caution, but not at all useful in terms of rehabilitation.
    Too many people under each officer, too few resources. Poor communication with prisons when people are released, lack of pre release preparation. It is a difficult task but an important one, so I have sympathy with Probation Officers who may well enter the profession keen to help keep the public safe whilst seeing those under their supervision moving ahead with positive lives (one of mine was so delighted with one man who had got a job as a supervisor with BT and was thriving) but find that due to lack of time and backing they are just coping with paperwork and helping no one.
    It all comes back to resources, and training, and is a very important part of the system, But at the end of the day, all those stuck in the system need to have the drive to move ahead in positive ways. No other way.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Like a lot of organisations linked to the criminal justice system, even members of parliament, it’s the people who make the difference. Policies and procedures are two things but personality and empathy are what’s important 👊


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