Suggestions to Improve The Presentence Investigation Process

By · Tuesday, February 3rd, 2009

I write from the perspective of man who has been incarcerated for longer than 21 years. I’ve also interviewed hundreds of other prisoners for the purposes of gathering information to write content that would help others understand prison, the people they hold, and strategies for growing through confinement. My work has convinced me that defendants enter into the criminal justice system without a clean understanding of how the decisions they made early in the process influenced the sentence as well as the prison adjustment.

With regard to the presentence investigation, a booklet to explain the purpose of the report and the ways my responses to questions from the probation officer would influence my life would have proved helpful.

I am not certain that the PSI played a huge role in my judge’s sentencing decisions. He had listened to witnesses who had provided testimony against me during my trial and evaluated the merits of the government’s case. I assume he had an idea of what type of sentence he thought was appropriate.

Besides the sentence, however, the PSI would have an influence on the ways that prison administrators classify defendants. The PSI contains information that determines program eligibility, quarters and work assignments, visiting lists, even halfway house qualifications.

Not knowing the significance of the PSI, defendants sometimes evaded or provided untruthful statements to the probation officer. Such answers could lead to deleterious consequences, including longer sentences and more difficult prison adjustments. A booklet would help individuals understand how the responses they provided could influence both the PSI report and the prison experience.

Since I do not think the government would provide such a booklet, defense attorneys ought to encourage their clients to learn as much about the criminal justice process as possible. The more information individuals have, the better they could prepare themselves to navigate the turmoil successfully.

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