Section 3: Assessment
2 Hours

Lecture Topic TOPIC: ASSESSMENT

Part III: Pre–Sentence/Pre–Disposition Reports

General Issues

Up to this point, we have focused on fairly broad assessment issues and principles. Now let’s “drill down” a bit and consider a specific type of assessment that occurs early in the juvenile justice process and which tends to be fairly influential in the management of juvenile sex offenders. The pre–sentence/pre–disposition report, also known as a pre–disposition or pre–sentence investigation, or probation investigation, is commonly used to assist juvenile and family court judges with decisionmaking at the point of disposition. Generally, it is conducted by an officer of the juvenile court.

Use SlideUse Slide #18: Pre–Disposition Report
Use SlideUse Slide #19: Overarching Considerations

If it is well–crafted, the pre–sentence/pre–disposition report offers one of the first opportunities for key stakeholders to obtain a comprehensive picture of the juvenile sex offender and his or her family. As such, the pre–sentence/pre–disposition report provides important baseline data from the youth’s point of entry into the system, against which changes can be measured as he progresses through the management process. Ideally, then, the pre–sentence/pre–disposition report will follow the juvenile throughout the system and, in combination with other types of assessments, will be used to assist with the development of supervision case plans and treatment plans.

Fundamental to this assessment are three overarching considerations that must be carefully balanced: the needs of the juvenile, the victim, and the community.

This is best accomplished by ensuring that the juvenile court officers who are responsible for completing the report have clear, policy–driven guidance. Therefore, procedures for developing pre–sentence/pre–disposition reports should outline the specific elements to be assessed and the methods by which the assessment information or data should be collected, and create a standard format to be used for reporting.23

Key Components of the Pre–Sentence/Pre–Disposition Report

Let’s talk for a few minutes about the key elements that should be included in a pre–sentence/pre–disposition report in order to make the report the most useful to the juvenile or family courts and other stakeholders.24 Many of these will be familiar to you, as we identified a number of them when we brainstormed important assessment data points earlier.

Use SlideUse Slide #20: PSR/PDR: Critical Elements

Since we are talking about the importance of assessing both strengths and assets of the juvenile and his or her family, I’d like to share with you an assessment tool that can be particularly helpful when developing a pre–sentence/pre–disposition report—the Child and Adolescent Strengths and Needs – Sexual Development (CANS–SD).25

The CANS–SD is a structured needs assessment tool designed specifically to be used with sexually abusive youth. It is very comprehensive—covering many or most of the critical domains that must be assessed when developing a pre–sentence/pre–disposition report—and, therefore, it provides a consistent method for ensuring that the assessor considers each of these elements. And it doesn’t just include factors that are limited to the youth. Rather, the CANS–SD includes family variables as well. And as the name suggests, the CANS–SD includes a review of the strengths and assets of the juvenile and his or her family.

What’s really helpful about this tool is that it can be used by supervision officers or other non–clinicians (as well as clinicians). And it can be used as a repeated assessment tool to review changes over time and make adjustments to case management plans accordingly.

Let’s return to the critical components of the pre–sentence/pre–disposition report.

Use SlideUse Slide #21: Child and Adolescent Strengths and Needs – Sexual Development (CANS-SD)

Pre–Sentence/Pre–Disposition Report Recommendations

Use SlideUse Slide #22: Recommendations

When recommendations are offered to the court, there should be no question in the judge’s mind about why they were recommended. In other words, any and all recommendations should be fully supported by the facts contained in the body of the pre–sentence/pre–disposition report. So, if you cannot provide a reasonable basis for a specific recommendation, then it probably should not be included.

To be maximally useful to the court, the recommendation section of the pre–sentence/pre–disposition report should include any identified needs that the youth has for specialized programs and services, such as sex offense–specific treatment. In addition, there should be a statement about the required level of custody of care, using the least restrictive alternative that will ensure community safety.

In some jurisdictions, recommendations may also include suggested special conditions of supervision for the juvenile sex offender, should he be allowed to remain in the community. We will talk more about potential specialized conditions for juvenile sex offenders when we get to the section on community supervision. And if orders to pay court costs, other fines, or restitution are warranted, these should be specified in the recommendation section as well.

Overall, it is important that the pre–sentence/pre–disposition report outlines the course of action that is believed to be the ideal disposition, regardless of whether the resources are currently available—so if necessary, gaps in services should be noted and secondary recommendations should be offered.30

Practical Resources

As we wrap up this section, I’d like to draw your attention to a couple of resources that can be particularly helpful for court officers who are responsible for conducting pre–sentence/pre–disposition reports.

Use SlideUse Slide #23: Juvenile Delinquency Guidelines: Improving Court Practice in Juvenile Delinquency Cases
Use SlideUse Slide #24: Desktop Guide to Good Juvenile Probation Practice

The first is entitled “Juvenile Delinquency Guidelines: Improving Court Practice in Juvenile Delinquency Cases.”31 This best–practices handbook was developed by the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges, with support from the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) of the U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs.

Another useful reference is entitled the “Desktop Guide to Good Juvenile Probation Practice,”32 and was produced by the National Center for Juvenile Justice, also through funding from the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.

Both of these resources offer detailed explanations about key principles and approaches to conducting pre–sentence/pre–disposition reports for juvenile delinquency cases—in addition to a host of other key issues relevant to juvenile court proceedings and strategies. For example, the experts and practitioners who contributed to these resource manuals offer specific information about approaches, standards, and best–practices related to the adjudication process, disposition hearings, post–disposition reviews, intake processes, supervision strategies, and responses to probation/parole violations, to name a few.

Even though neither of these handbooks is designed specifically to address juvenile sex offenders, both provide some information about effective responses to juvenile sex offenders in their respective sub–sections about special populations. Overall, these publications can be invaluable guidebooks that offer very specific and practical examples and suggestions, and I would encourage you to take full advantage of them.

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