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Section 3: Lecture Content and Teaching Notes
Components of Supervision: Specialized Approaches to Managing Sex Offenders

6 hours, 50 minutes

(2 hours, 15 minutes, including Learning Activity)

New Topic IconWHAT IS A PSI?

Note: Optimally, the trainer should know, before the session, how many participants are engaged in developing PSIs. If none or few conduct such investigations, this section might be cast as "What to expect in a complete PSI." Or, in those jurisdictions where PSIs are not prepared on all sex offenders or where investigators are not trained specifically on investigating sex offenders, this section will be relevant as guidance for good case planning. The trainer may elect to shorten this section if participants have no responsibilities for PSIs.

According to Georgia Cumming and Maureen Buell, "the pre-sentence investigation (PSI) is a report ordered by the judge after an offender has been found guilty by a jury or a judge [or has entered an Alford Plea], a plea of guilty or nolo contendere to the presenting charge(s). The purpose of this report is to provide information about the defendant to the court to assist in the disposition of the case. This report is generally prepared by the probation department."10

The PSI may be the first opportunity for the system—usually through the probation department—to consider thoroughly the implications of the offender’s offense and background. It is an initial step in assessing the offender’s risk and needs. It should provide basic information about—

  • Use Slide # SymbolUse Slide #7: The PSI Provides Information Regarding
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    The offender himself in terms of history, offense, and amenability to treatment;
  • The environment in which the offender might be supervised and the degree to which that environment might add to the offender’s risk or assist in managing risk;
  • The trauma suffered by the victim in the course of the offense and, importantly for supervision, the ways in which victim safety can be assured through the court’s disposition; and
  • The resources available to assist in effective management of the offender in the community (e.g., supervision capacity, availability of specialized treatment, the existence of the polygraph, or other supports).11

The court is probably looking for three essential recommendations from this information (although practice may vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction). The PSI should be able to—

Use Slide # SymbolUse Slide #8: Pre-sentence Recommendations
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  • Assess the level of risk that the offender presents to the community, including the risk to the victim or victims;
  • Assess the offender’s amenability to specialized treatment; and
  • Outline any special supervision conditions that should be imposed to enhance the likelihood that the offender can be managed safely in the community.

Some jurisdictions do not order PSIs on all sex offenders. Where that is the case, supervising officers will probably find this discussion to be a useful guide in initiating supervision and preparing to develop a case plan. In other words, what hasn’t been done as part of a PSI will probably still need to be done as you begin supervision.

The investigation will gather information from written reports and records as well as from interviews with the offender and other individuals. Later in the training—in the section on practical supervision strategies—we will be discussing interviewing skills in some detail. Without getting into the details of those skills, however, it is important to note that the probation/parole officer should be alert to attitudes and behaviors on the part of the offender that prevent honesty in the interview and investigation process. Sex offenders often maintain what Cumming has termed a "socially acceptable facade."12 As we discussed earlier, sex offenders differ from the other offenders on supervision caseloads and often have very stable jobs, families, minor or no criminal records, an impressive educational background, and a strong social support system. Secondly, in order to carry out a pattern of sexual abuse behind such a façade, sex offenders often develop an extensive pattern of deception and deceit. It is important for a probation/parole officer conducting a PSI or developing a case plan to be alert to the conditions that may make it more difficult to develop an accurate picture of such an offender’s situation.

Use Slide # SymbolUse Slide #9: Elements of the PSI
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The following discussion of the PSI is organized into four parts: 1) the documents that serve as sources for the report, 2) interviews conducted as part of the PSI, 3) assessing the probability of re-offense and amenability to treatment, and 4) developing the report’s recommendations.13


Prior to the first interview with the offender, the probation/parole officer (or PSI writer) should obtain and review as many of the following documents as possible.14

Police Affidavit

Use Slide # SymbolUse Slide #10: Documents Essential to the PSI
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Note: During this segment of the training, it will be important to elicit discussion from participants regarding precisely what they have available to them during the course of conducting a PSI. It will be important to strike a balance between providing guidance on what would be optimal and recognizing what is possible given resource and time limitations, agency policy, and statutory requirements.
The probation/parole officer should carefully review any police reports that detail the instant offense. It is helpful to speak with the investigating officer for information that might have been obtained after the police report was submitted. The offender’s statement is also important for an initial perspective regarding levels of denial and minimization, if present. If an offender has lived or worked in another state, a record check through the FBI National Crime Information Center 2000 (NCIC 2000) should be completed. It is also important to review police reports from previous offenses whenever they are available. It is not uncommon for past criminal offenses that were sexual in nature to have been pled to non-sex offenses. For example, an attempted sexual assault may have been reduced to a simple assault and an attempted rape may have been reduced to a burglary or a breaking and entering. Police affidavits can provide important information regarding—

  • The victim’s and the offender’s ages and relationship, if any;
  • A description of assault behaviors;
  • The location and setting of the assault;
  • The method by which the defendant coerced, enticed, manipulated, or forced the victim to submit to and refrain from disclosing the abuse;
  • Weapons that may have been used or present during the offense;
  • The time span over which the assaultive behavior occurred;
  • The manner in which the assault was disclosed and the response to the victim; and
  • Any information in the police report about trauma to the victim.

Sex Offender-Specific Evaluation

Practice varies widely here, although most probation agencies would agree that including a sex offender-specific evaluation in the PSI is desirable. Some jurisdictions are moving in the direction of adopting standards for such evaluations.15 These evaluations, which should be conducted by master’s-level (or higher) clinicians who specialize in sex offender evaluation and treatment, are useful to the probation/parole officer in the development of both the PSI and, later, the case management strategy. A comprehensive mental health, sex offense-specific evaluation should include an evaluation of mental disorders, a summary of drug and alcohol use, a medical screening, a sexual evaluation (including a sexual history, an assessment of arousal patterns, and sexual deviancy), an evaluation of the level of denial, and an understanding of the level of violence used to consummate the offense. It should identify risk factors and recommend appropriate treatment interventions.

Other Mental Health Professionals’ Evaluations

Other mental health evaluations are particularly important in providing insights into the level at which an offender is capable of functioning. For instance, a low-functioning offender will need a case plan that is very specific and concrete to provide clear guidance. The questions that should be answered by the mental health professionals’ evaluation include: What is the level of functioning of the offender? Are there deficits in cognitive function that are important in developing a supervision plan and making a treatment referral?

Records of Previous Supervision and Treatment

If the offender has been on supervision in the community previously, a review of those records will provide valuable insights into his cooperation with treatment, level of denial, and prospects for success or failure while on community supervision in the future. Likewise, materials reporting on therapy during earlier terms of community supervision should be located and reviewed.

Military Records

Although military records may be uninformative—and may take so long to obtain that they arrive after the PSI—they should be sought as a way to verify the offender’s report of his life experiences.

Victim Information

In many jurisdictions, victims have the opportunity to provide information that is captured in documents available from victim advocacy organizations or units within other public agencies. If such information is not available elsewhere, agency policy should govern how, when, and by whom a victim is contacted for input. These statements are an important part of the PSI because of the insights they can provide regarding the nature and circumstances of the offense, the trauma suffered by the victim, and potential issues that should be considered when developing special conditions or the case plan. This information is also helpful in assuring victim safety if the offender is supervised in the community.

Waivers of Confidentiality

Refer to Handout Symbol Refer to handout: Sample Policy Regarding Limitations on Confidentiality can be found among the participant materials for Section 3, Long Version of this Curriculum.

Offenders should be required to sign waivers of confidentiality that permit open communication between and among the probation/parole officer, the treatment provider, the victim’s therapist, the polygraph examiner, and all other members of the supervision team, including staff from the department of human services (if applicable) and any other parties who may be responsible for or involved in the supervision of the offender (e.g., family members, clergy, employers).

(10 minutes)

Refer to Handout Symbol Refer to handout: Section 3, Exercise 1 Case Study Questions

Reconsider the case study introduced earlier and answer questions 2 and 3.

  1. What would have been important to review in terms of documentary materials for a PSI on Mike?
  2. Does the case suggest that a thorough PSI was available? If not, what do you think was missing?

Use Slide # SymbolUse Slide #11: Interviews Conducted for the PSI
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To supplement, complete, and verify the information gathered in the document reviews, the probation/parole officer should conduct a number of interviews. Interview subjects include the offender, officials who prepared the documents (such as the police officer who conducted the investigation and a therapist who has provided treatment or conducted an evaluation), and, in some cases, the victim. Other collateral interviews of family members, associates, and friends will also be helpful in conducting a complete and thorough PSI.

Interviews With Offenders

Once the probation/parole officer has had the opportunity to review the relevant documents, an interview with the offender is an important next step in the PSI.

Personal History

Note: The following material on elements of the personal history can be presented as a lecture, but can also provide an opportunity for interaction and therefore, better retention. In order to emphasize the rationale for gathering this information, use the queries to solicit relevant items in each category that would be helpful in understanding the nature of sex offenders' offense cycles, risk levels, or strengths that may be particularly important in terms of supervision. The trainer may want to begin the discussion with examples from his or her own experience.
Although most probation/parole officers are familiar with personal history interviews, there are some specific areas of interest and issues that a probation/parole officer should be sure to broach with all sex offenders. Officers must cover both the criminal offense history and the sexual history of offenders; it is therefore advisable that the officer begin with the personal history, thereby covering topics that are less sensitive than those to be discussed during the sexual history portion of the interview. Discussing an offender’s personal history first allows the officer and the offender to develop a comfort level and rapport. Some particular issues that should be addressed in each area of the personal history include16

Discussion Question? Discussion Question: What information would you want to get about the offender’s family and why? Why might you start with this?

Use Slide # SymbolUse Slide #12: Personal History Items of the Offender
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  • Family—Early in the interview you should obtain names, addresses, and phone numbers of all family members. Later in the interview, the offender may not be as forthcoming with this information, once he or she recognizes the type of information you might be seeking from his family. In particular, make it a point to follow up and interview (if possible) any family member the offender seems reluctant to discuss or for you to contact. In contacting certain family members, you may gather important information about the offender’s history of sexual abuse in his own family. If the victim is a child, be sure to get the name and address or phone number for the child’s custodial parent. If the parents separated permanently before sentencing, as often happens, you need a way to contact the other parent to determine the ongoing status and welfare of the child victim.

Discussion Question? Discussion Question: What kind of insights could you get from questions about marital or other relationships?

  • Marital or Other Relationships—An offender’s relationships within his family and his intimate relationships often provide insights into his behavior patterns. There may be instances of prior offense behavior that were not reported or prosecuted. Also, contacting prior spouses or partners may give indication of access to other victims (e.g., other children living in the home). Age at which the offender and his wife or partner began dating and having sex may also be significant, especially if there is a large age difference.

Discussion Question? Discussion Question: We know that sex offenders often do not have the same problems with employment as some of our other offenders, but what kind of employment information might be useful and why?

  • Employment—Although sex offenders often do not have the same problems with employment (such as lack of stability, poor attendance, low skill levels), examining their employment situation is an important aspect of understanding their access to victims. Working in a situation where there is routine access to children or where the offender supervises teenagers or adult women likely contributes to the risk of re-offense. Also, work such as home repair that places an offender in situations where he has access to potential victims at home alone, or to children, is an employment situation that should raise concern. Frequent job changes, absenteeism, and access to work associates’ children all are factors that should be explored in the interview.

Discussion Question? Discussion Question: What about volunteer and leisure activities? What would you be looking for?

  • Volunteer and Leisure Activities—Often offenders use volunteer or leisure time activities as occasions to gain access to and groom their victims. Classic examples are working with church youth groups or scouting troops. Other examples include spending time at malls or arcades where youngsters congregate.

Discussion Question? Discussion Question: What could the offender’s financial information tell us?

  • Financial—As with any offender, lack of financial responsibility is likely an indicator of general levels of irresponsibility. In addition, lack of financial resources may limit an offender’s ability to assist in the important matter of paying the costs of victim treatment, his own treatment costs, or the costs associated with periodic polygraph examinations, if required.

Discussion Question? Discussion Question: What kind of medical information would be useful? Why?

  • Medical—A clear understanding of an offender’s medical problems—particularly if they have been chronically ill or are elderly—is helpful for the PSI. Exaggerated claims of disability or infirmity may mask an offender’s level of risk and support incarceration as an appropriate sanction.

Discussion Question? Discussion Question: What difference would it make if an offender was in the military or had a history with the military? Why would that be important?

  • Military—Information about adjustment and discharge should be covered. Often, military service provides an opportunity for an offender to access communities and victims where he is unknown and free from some of the inhibiting factors of family and friends. Even when formal charges are not filed, military records may give clues to previous offense behavior.

Discussion Question? Discussion Question: Would you ask about substance abuse? Why?

  • Substance Abuse—Hopefully, the probation/parole officer will have some independent evaluation of the offender’s substance abuse history. However, this should still be covered in the interview. Although offenders often claim alcohol or drug abuse as an excuse for their abusive behavior, probation/parole officers should be firm in confirming that alcohol or drug use does not cause sexual offense behavior. Alcohol or drug use may reduce offenders’ inhibitions, or may serve as a way to access victims more easily, but it is not the cause of sexual abuse.

  • Release of Information—During the course of the interview, the probation/parole officer should obtain written releases that authorize him or her to obtain all of the above information from outside sources.


Refer to Handout Symbol Refer to handout: Section 3, Exercise 1. Case Study Questions.

Reconsider the case study and answer questions 4 and 5 regarding that case:

  1. If you were preparing the PSI on Mike, who would you have interviewed? Why? What questions would you have asked?
  2. In practice, do you have the time and the discretion to interview whomever you choose as part of the PSI? As part of supervision?

Note: Experience suggests that participants are going to want to ask questions about skills during this section, especially interviewing. Trainers should encourage participants to focus here on the principles—the what and why—and spend time on the how during the final section.

Offense History

Once the personal history is completed, it is time to move on to a history of the offense and, ultimately, to the sexual history of the offender. The last section of this training discusses maintaining control of the interview situation and ways to gain the cooperation of the offender. This section discusses the types of information to be gathered and the rationale for it. However, it is important to pause here and mention several basic principles to be observed in the interview.

Use Slide # SymbolUse Slide #13: Interactions With the Offender During the PSI
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One distinction between the PSI interview and interactions with the offender during the course of treatment is in the handling of denial. Offenders will be in some form of denial about their offense or their history at the PSI phase—about committing the act, the level of premeditation, the harm to the victim, the complicity of the victim, or the frequency of the behavior. During the PSI phase, it is appropriate to "accept some level of rationalization or minimization if it serves your purpose."17

You do, however, want to strike a balance. On one hand, if the offender is allowed some face saving and some understanding that he may not be prepared to reveal everything about his sexual offense or history, he may be more cooperative. On the other hand, a competent PSI should seek to elicit as much candor as possible. Confronting the offender each time he resists accepting full responsibility for his actions and the harm he has inflicted may cause him to shut down and not cooperate with the basic process of the investigation. However, when we discuss interacting with the offender during the course of supervision, we will emphasize the importance of never allowing the offender to deny or engage in thinking errors without being challenged. Illustrative questions regarding the offense itself include18

Use Slide # SymbolUse Slide #14: Details of the Offense
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Note: Trainers should stress that offenders should be encouraged to answer these questions with a high level of detail.
  • Where did the assault take place? How did the offender get there? Was the location randomly selected? Is the location always the same, such as the victim’s bedroom?
  • How did the offender select the victim? Was it opportunistic (the victim was in the wrong place at the wrong time)? Was it planned (the victim was known to the offender)? What characteristics did the victim have that resulted in the offender’s selection (sex, age, physical, or emotional attributes)?
  • How did the offender force the victim to submit? For example, did the offender use verbal threats, enticements, intimidation, trickery, physical abuse, a weapon, or a threat to harm persons close to the victim?
  • What was the victim’s reaction? Did the victim say anything? Was the victim scared, crying, passive, submissive, or combative? How emotionally removed is the offender from the pain of the victim? Did the offender stop at anytime because of the victim’s reaction?
  • What was arousing to the offender? For example, did the victim’s resistance to the rape arouse the offender? Was the physical assault arousing? Was the submissiveness of the victim arousing? Were the physical characteristics of the victim arousing? What did the offender say to the victim? Did the offender, for example, use threatening, foul, humiliating, or instructional language? Did the offender use secrecy, threats, or bribes to keep the victim from disclosing?
  • Were alcohol or drugs used? If so, for what purpose: to entice the victim, to reduce victim resistance, or to reduce the offender’s own inhibitions? Were other enticements used, such as money?
  • Was there anything that the offender wanted to do but chose not to do? Why? (e.g., an offender who fondles a young boy, who has strong urges to force the boy to engage in oral sex with him, but who resists this temptation and does not act upon it).
  • Was a weapon visible but not used? Why? If the weapon was used, how was it used?
  • How did the offender feel after the assault was over?
  • Has the offender ever attempted to stop the abusive behavior? How, when, and why?

Going through the questions about the offense more than once is a technique that allows the offender to fill in more detail and to be more candid. Asking to go over the offense a second or subsequent time also allows the probation/parole officer to reveal his or her knowledge about certain aspects of the offense. This may make it easier for the offender to discuss certain aspects—such as use of a weapon, planning, violence, and aspects that were arousing—that he or she may be reluctant to detail during the first recounting of the offense.

(10 minutes)

Refer to Handout Symbol Refer to handout: Section 3, Exercise 1 Case Study Questions.

Participants are asked to reconsider the sample case outlined earlier in the training and answer question 6:

  1. If you were responsible for conducting the PSI in this case, what would you have wanted to know about the offense? Was the location important? Where did this offense likely happen? Does that suggest anything about this offender’s triggers or offense cycle?

Note: The following activity serves as an object lesson for the participants on how they will have to prepare themselves to discuss difficult matters—and how difficult it may be for offenders to discuss these matters with them. CAUTION: This exercise has occasionally provoked strong negative reactions. If you are not comfortable with it, it can be presented alternatively as an exercise of imagination: "Imagine if I were to ask you to turn to the person next to you and describe your first sexual experience…."

Pause while participants get paper.

Note: Very quickly—before the thought has time to sink in—the trainer should assure the class that they do not really want them to follow these instructions, but rather to focus on their reaction, on how difficult we find it to be candid about our sexuality.

Take out a piece of paper. (Pause.)

Now write down a description of your first sexual experience. After you do this, I will ask you to share what you have written with someone else in the room.

Stop. What’s going through your mind? The point here is not to do the writing or the sharing, but to think about how it felt to be asked to reveal ourselves and talk about our sexuality. It’s important to keep those feelings in mind as we approach sex offenders with these questions—in terms of both our own level of comfort or discomfort and the offender’s. What we’re asking people to do is very hard, but it’s essential to the effective management of sex offenders that we take these thoughts and experiences out of their secret hiding places and bring them into the light of day.


Sexual History

In much the same way that it is important to understand the drug use history of an offender whose crimes are related to drugs, it is important to understand the sexual history of a sex offender. This is an area that is extremely difficult for most probation/parole officers—and most people—to confront and discuss. However, it is an essential part of the PSI. Again, we will refer to suggestions from Cumming and Buell regarding specific questions to include in the interview regarding sexual history.19 Open-ended questions—rather than questions that can be answered by a simple "yes" or "no"—tend to elicit more information. If the polygraph is used, this information can be supplemented or enhanced through polygraph. Examples of open-ended sexual history questions include—

  • Use Slide # SymbolUse Slide #15: Sexual History Topics
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    How did you learn about sex?
  • What did your parents tell you about sex?
  • When did you start to date? Tell me about your first sexual experience.
  • How old were you when you first started to masturbate? What are your fantasies? Have they changed over time?
  • Where do you masturbate? Do you use any materials when masturbating?
  • How old were you when you realized that things were not quite right for you sexually? How old were you when the sexual problems began?
  • Describe your sexual relationship with your spouse/significant other. How often do you engage in sexual activity? Who initiates sex?
  • Have you ever been a victim of sexual abuse? What is the first sexual experience you remember as a child? Have you ever been scared or humiliated sexually? How? When?
Use Slide # SymbolUse Slide #16: Closing the Sexual History Interview
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Close the interview with several issues in mind. Let the offender know that the information in the PSI will remain in his file and will be used by the criminal justice system for years to come. It will be freely and openly communicated to and shared with others involved in his case. Emphasize that the offender’s honesty in the PSI will be an important factor in the disposition of his case and the degree to which he will be seen as suitable for treatment and community supervision. Alert him to some common feelings he may experience once the interview is over. For instance, he may experience anxiety over having revealed aspects of his behavior and history that have not been revealed before. This is a normal reaction and, most likely, his anxiety will decrease over time.20

Interviews With Victims

Use Slide # SymbolUse Slide #17: Interviews with Victims
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Note: The trainer may want to take a quick poll of participants' agency policies and procedures for interaction with victims. While the principle of focusing on the victim's concerns may not raise much controversy, agencies will have different ways of operationalizing this and it would be helpful for the trainer and participants to have an idea of the diversity represented in the room on these issues.

Note: Refer participants to the victim impact resource materials provided during Section 1 of the training.

Note: CSOM's training curriculum regarding the central role of victims in sex offender management covers the victim interviewing in more detail. The point about officers preparing themselves for victim contact through training, reading and consultation is worth emphasizing.

Many jurisdictions now require that an assessment of victim impact be included in the PSI. The information is vital, but it’s important that it’s handled in such a way as to ensure that the victim is not further harmed or traumatized. In some jurisdictions, a victim witness coordinator housed in the prosecutor’s office is the source for a victim impact statement. Other jurisdictions have made arrangements for a single victim interview to be conducted by several different agency representatives at the same time, to limit the number of times that the victim has to tell the story.

There are times, however, when a probation/parole officer may find it best to conduct an interview with the victim or the victim’s family in order to gain insight into the impact of the offense on the victim. Victim contact is likely guided by specific policy in a probation or parole agency and the officer should be cognizant of that policy. The probation/parole officer should be extremely cautious about initiating victim contact, and should be prepared through training, consulting the literature, and discussing the issue with supervisors and colleagues. In some jurisdictions, PSI writers routinely interview victims and gather valuable insights into the offense, the trauma suffered by the victim, and safety issues; and it benefits both the victim and the sentencing/supervision process. The goal of sex offender management is to prevent further victimization. The process, including the interview, should not cause further pain to those who have already been victimized.21 (A special training curriculum on victim issues in sex offender management covers the topic of interviewing victims in more detail).

Collateral Interviews

Collateral interviews may be conducted with the offender’s family and/or housemates, an ex-spouse or ex-partner, a member of the clergy, employers, and prior therapists. By providing several sources of corroboration for the same set of facts, collateral interviews provide additional insight into the offender’s truthfulness and level of denial.

Interviews With Family and Residential Associates

Such interviews can also provide insight into such issues as access to victims, who lives in the offender’s home, whether there are children in the neighborhood, whether the offender’s friends and family members support his denial, and whether other resources are available that might be helpful in monitoring the offender closely in the community (e.g., a supportive collateral who understands the risks that the offender poses and who is willing to assist in supervising him).22

Interviews with family and residential associates can, therefore, often provide information that is critical to the PSI and the probation officer’s recommendation regarding incarceration or community supervision (and what special conditions to impose should community supervision be recommended). Some of the most important questions that probation officers should seek answers to when interviewing family and residential associates during the PSI include:23

  • Use Slide # SymbolUse Slide #18: Collateral Interviews
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    With whom is the offender living? (If possible, the names and ages of everyone at the offender’s residence should be obtained.)
  • Do adults in the residence know the truth about the offender’s sexual abuse and the terms of probation/parole?
  • Some people—including some offenders—live in gated communities. Has the offender provided (or is he willing to provide) a key to the gated community so that unexpected field visits can be made?
  • What are the names of the adults with whom the offender associates and do these associates have criminal histories?
(10 minutes)

Refer to Handout Symbol Refer to handout: Section 3, Exercise 1 Case Study Questions

Reconsider the sample case and answer question 7:

  1. What strategies could Mike’s probation officer have employed to verify that it was safe for him to live in a tent on his sister’s property? Do we know anything about his half-sister (other than that Mike had a positive relationship with her)? What if she has a boyfriend with several young children who often spend time at her house? What other questions should Mike’s probation officer have asked about his living situation? To whom else should he have spoken?