In addition to risk assessments, professionals in the sex offender management field can benefit greatly from other types of assessments, including criminal or juvenile justice–driven (versus clinically–driven) assessments that are designed primarily for use by the local courts, probation and parole offices, or other correctional and youth–serving agencies. The following are key examples of justice–driven assessments:
- Pre–sentence investigations/pre–disposition reports;
- Intake/classification assessments; and
- Assessments to develop initial supervision or case management plans.
The pre–sentence or pre–disposition report is often the first opportunity to obtain a fairly comprehensive assessment of the adult or juvenile sex offender who has come to the attention of the courts. It is typically conducted to provide judges and other interested parties with critical information about an individual offender and the circumstances surrounding the case, and to offer recommendations about potential disposition of the case that will balance offender accountability, offender needs, victim needs and desires, and community safety (Cumming & McGrath, 2005; Holmgren, 1999; NCJFCJ, 2005; Scott, 1997). The pre–sentence or pre–disposition report is usually completed by a community supervision officer or case manager, ideally one possessing specialized training and experience in sex offender management.
To conduct a thorough pre–sentence/pre–disposition report, a careful review of records is necessary, as are interviews with the adult or youthful offender. In addition, as some individuals may not be wholly forthcoming, collateral interviews should be conducted. To the extent possible, the interviewer should ensure that these collateral contacts are reliable and trustworthy (Cumming & McGrath, 2000, 2005). More than one interview is often necessary in order to compare and verify information gathered from the records, offender statements, and collateral contacts (Cumming & McGrath, 2005).
Multiple types and sources of information must be utilized in order to ensure that the report is both comprehensive and reliable. The following are examples of the types of information that should be included in the pre–sentence/predisposition assessment report (see Cumming & McGrath, 2005; NCJFCJ, 2005):
- Instant offense summary, including the offender’s version of the offense(s) and victim impact statements;
- Prior criminal record, history of delinquency, or referrals to child protection agencies;
- Social history, including peer relationships and associates;
- Family, marital, and other social supports;
- Medical and mental health needs;
- Substance use/abuse;
- Employment and/or military history;
- School performance and conduct (for juveniles);
- Financial stability (primarily for adult offenders);
- Residential stability (for adult offenders) or stability in placement (for juvenile offenders);
- Estimated recidivism risk, both sexual and non–sexual;
- Strengths and assets;
- Findings from the psychosexual evaluation;
- Potential conditions of supervision, should the individual be placed in the community; and
- Mitigating or aggravating circumstances that should be taken into account.
With juvenile sex offenders, the pre–disposition report should include a careful review of systemic or contextual variables (e.g., family, school, and peers), because of their influence on the youths’ adjustment, development, and stability (NAPN, 1993; NCJFCJ, 2005). For example, it is important to assess family strengths and needs, such as the ability and willingness of parents or guardians to provide adequate structure, supervision, and support. In the event that victims or vulnerable individuals are in the home, the predisposition assessment should also address victim safety needs, safeguards within the home, and risks and benefits associated with family preservation or reunification efforts. Furthermore, when juveniles are involved, the pre–disposition report should address the range of placement options that balance the least restrictive alternatives, proximity to the juvenile’s home or community, specialized treatment needs, and community safety.
Recommendations to the court should always be supported by assessment information that has been outlined in the body of the report. Without an adequate and data–grounded foundation, recommendations will be overly subjective, less useful, and ultimately difficult to justify or defend.
Well–executed pre–sentence/pre–disposition assessment reports can provide judges with an informed rationale for sentencing and other disposition decisions, can offer supervision officers or case managers with a solid foundation for developing initial community supervision plans, and can provide multiple stakeholders with important baseline information against which changes can be compared over time. Given the value of pre–sentence/pre–disposition assessment reports, jurisdictions may wish to consider developing policies to ensure that they are completed for all adult and juvenile sex offenders who come to the attention of the courts. If such policies are established, specific criteria should be included to promote consistency and comprehensiveness in these reports.
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