If you have pleaded guilty to sexual offences, you should expect the court to order a Pre-sentence Report (PSR) from the Probation Service. The PSR helps the court to decide on a sentence and the balance between punishment and rehabilitation. A well-written report will also consider the need, or otherwise, of a Sexual Harm Prevention Order (SHPO). In the concluding section of the report, the probation officer should propose a sentence for the court to consider.
The probation officer will interview you without your solicitor being present. In this meeting, they will ask you about your motivations for offending, to explore how much insight you have into the reasons for your behaviours. They will also be interested in any changes you have made to address the behaviours and lifestyle factors that contributed to the offence. They will also scrutinise your understanding of the harms done to assess how remorseful you are. This is very important for the Court's decisions. The Probation Officer will also ask about other things they see as relevant, including your history of relationships, coping mechanisms, as well as information about your employment, accommodation, health, finances and any undermining factors such as addictions or debt.
At the end of the interview, the probation officer will commonly give you an indication of the sentence they are likely to proposet. It is within the culture of the Probation Service to favour community sentences where this is realistic.
Above all, the interview is to help the court to understand what balance of rehabilitation and punishment is necessary in your case. Despite their importance, these interviews rarely last longer than 90 minutes. Yet, coming to an understanding of the motivations and context to sexual offences usually requires complex discussions. Although the probation officer should be skilled in interviewing, they are starting from a blank slate, with only some basic prosecution evidence to read before meeting you.
Here are five tips for helping you during the pre-sentence report interview. Following these will help the probation officer write an accurate report that is a true reflection of your behaviour, your situation, and of the person you are.
Be open to exploring and discussing your behaviour, including what you have done to make changes to stop it happening again. The probation officer will want to hear that you take responsibility, and will notice if you try to deny large parts, blaming others or your circumstances, or minimising the seriousness of your behaviours. There are no excuses for the offending, but the probation officer will want to gain some understanding about why it has happened. Working with Safer Lives, Lucy Faithfull Foundation or other specialists can be very helpful.
Be your true self. The Probation Officer and court will be very interested in knowing your attitude and insight into the harms caused to victims. The work of Safer Lives and Lucy Faithfull Foundation is very popular with the courts because it helps you to understand and address these important issues that centre on harms and your remorse.
Listen first, answer second. Remember that the probation officer wants to ask you some questions, and for you to answer them, and this should then evolve into a series of short guided discussions. If you find yourself going off on tangents, take a step back and bring yourself back to the questions being asked.
Don't dominate the meeting. Although there may be things you have gone into the interview to say, remember and accept that the probation officer has the power, and hop they use it correctly. Do not make a list of thoughts you want to force on them. If you have important things you want to say, leave them to the end, if they haven't already been discussed. Let them control the meeting. Don't talk at them about the points you want to make. This will only frustrate and irritate the probation officer, leading to an inaccurate or unhelpful report.
Be prepared to speak about some very personal things, and try not to worry if you get upset within the discussions. The probation officer should be sensitive to you, but some of their questions might also be quite blunt and direct. They are likely to ask if you have sexual interest in children, if that seems relevant.
But remember, the probation officer is expected to give you a fair hearing. They don’t expect perfect answers, because there aren’t any, and they shouldn’t try to trick you or catch you out. They will expect you to be nervous and worried, and will be surprised if you are not. It may have been over two years since your offences, but they may ask you to talk about them as if they happened yesterday. There is no harm in reminding them of how long it has been since your arrest.
After the interview.
A pre-senetence report interview can be a deeply personal and exposing experience for you. You will likely feel tired, or even overwhelmed afterwards. Be kind to yourself. Go for a coffee, a walk - something you enjoy and find relaxing. If you can, speak to a loved one so that you can process your feelings about the interview. If you are a client of Safer Lives, your practitioner will be happy to take a call and have a debrief with you.
Safer Lives are a team of experienced former probation officers who specialise in sexual offences. We can help you, whether you are in the early stages of an investigation, or have already been given court dates.
To read client testimonials from those who have worked with Safer Lives, please click here.