Archives for June 5, 2007

Pre-Sentence Reports for Criminal Offenders

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[Audio Begins]

Leonard Sipes: Hi and welcome to the radio version of D.C. Public Safety, I am your host Len Sipes. At our microphones today is Heather Jerald, she is a community supervision officer for the Diagnostic Unit. Heather, welcome to D.C. Public Safety.

Heather Jerald: Thank you.

Leonard Sipes: Okay. What does the Diagnostic Unit do?

Heather Jerald: Basically we write pre-sentence investigation reports for D.C. Superior Courts.

Leonard Sipes: Right, we do thousands of them a year.

Heather Jerald: Yes. And it allows the judge, the prosecutor, and the defense counsel to be able to see what services the offender may need. It gives them a background history of their social life, their drug abuse, education, military-it’s just a full and thorough investigation.

Leonard Sipes: Now one of the amazing things about the pre-sentence reports, that’s what we’re talking about.

Heather Jerald: Yeah.

Leonard Sipes: They are-again, I’ve been in the criminal justice system for a long time; they are some of the most complete overviews of a human being who’s involved in crime in the criminal justice system I’ve ever seen. I mean, from soup to nuts of where they were born, where they went to school, their substance abuse history, it’s just an amazing overview of that person’s life.

Heather Jerald: Right, it is amazing. And also, it’s really to help the offender. It’s not for-we don’t side with anybody as far as the judges, or what defense counsel, or what prosecution they want, it is to help-for the services to be provided to the offender that they do need. So yes, everything is comprehensive. We do a thorough investigation because we do want the judge and everybody to know, ‘hey, look, this is the life this defendant had and maybe these services can help him in the community so he can be a better citizen and start having prosocial activities to make him want to do better.

Leonard Sipes: Heather, now the judge is going to be using this as a guideline in terms of how many years to give that individual, correct?

Heather Jerald: Yes.

Leonard Sipes: Okay. So part of it is to analyze the dangerousness of the offender and part of it is to analyze what social deficiencies he has so when he’s convicted and he goes to federal prison, because the interesting thing that our listeners may not know, that if you are convicted in the District of Columbia, or dealing basically with D.C. code violations, you go to federal prison, and it’s been that way since August of 2000. There are no more local prisons for the District of Columbia. So when you send that to a judge and that judge sentences that individual to the federal bureau of prisons, they have the report and they use that in terms of what prison this individual should go to and what services they can provide to that individual.

Heather Jerald: Right. It’s definitely a tool used by the bureau of prisons, and also the judge, just to see what barriers need to be addressed, what services while the offender is incarcerated that will better help him come out and be a productive citizen.

Leonard Sipes: Now how long have you been a community supervision officer?

Heather Jerald: Three years.

Leonard Sipes: And what made you get into this line of business?

Heather Jerald: I worked eight years in the State of Maryland Prison System.

Leonard Sipes: Ah, you did?

Heather Jerald: Yes, I did.

Leonard Sipes: That’s where I came from. What did you do?

Heather Jerald: I was in case management there.

Leonard Sipes: Okay, great. Well that’s a wonderful background for doing this.

Heather Jerald: Right. And I was in case management. I enjoyed writing, but I had to get out of the prison because I wanted to be able to help them.

Leonard Sipes: Right.

Heather Jerald: To try to cut down on recidivism.

Leonard Sipes: Right.

Heather Jerald: They would just keep coming back, I would see the same offenders over and over again-I wanted to make a difference. And that’s part of the problem that we have within the entire criminal justice system, the same people coming back over and over and over again. That’s why the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency provides not just supervision-and we provide pretty daggone stringent supervision-drug testing, we see our people probably much more than the average parole and probation agency throughout the country. But we also provide a wide array of services. And we believe, that’s our philosophy that by supervising them stringently and providing those services, we can do exactly what it is that you’re talking about which is cutting back on recidivism.

Heather Jerald: Right. And also, it’s important to look at them being able to have those services, but also to know that somebody cares about them. Often times in their household, they do not have the support system that’s needed, and they don’t have somebody to pretty much guide them in the right direction so they can make positive changes to change their life.

Leonard Sipes: And in some cases, going to prison may be one of the best things that ever happened to them, if they take advantages of the opportunities while in prison, and if they take advantage of the opportunities when they come out offered by our agency.

Heather Jerald: Right. We have a lot of positive stuff offered by our agency, but I always tell my own offenders when I’m doing their pre-sentence report, ‘if you do believe that you’re going to be sent to jail for a period of time, learn a skill, learn a trade. If you do not have your GED, obtain your GED. Don’t just lay still in prison, be proactive so when you do come out in the community, you can make a difference and you don’t have to hit the ground just at a stop. You can hit the ground running because all the services that you needed to get that you didn’t get on the outside, you can get on the inside, and when you come you, you’ll be able to do what it is you need to do – maybe have a better life.’

Leonard Sipes: Do you think they pay attention to you?

Heather Jerald: I think some of them do, and by the time I get off the telephone with their family members and talking to them-sometimes I spend 30 minutes talking to somebody’s mother because maybe they will listen to the mother before they’ll listen to me.

Leonard Sipes: Right.

Heather Jerald: But at least they know somebody does care.

Leonard Sipes: And how much time do you spend on an average pre-sentence investigation, Heather?

Heather Jerald: We have basically seven weeks to work on it, but as I was telling my co- worker on our way here, I basically work on the weekends because it is a comprehensive report and it’s a lot of information. And you want to make sure the information is correct because this is deciding the future of your offender.

Leonard Sipes: Right. And it’s just funny because I knew of a mother who in Maryland obtained through the court a pre-sentence investigation report and she said, ‘this contains more information about my son than I knew my son.’

Heather Jerald: Right. And actually you know-last night I talked to somebody’s mother and she really was impressed that I took the time to talk to her. But I had to explain to her that, ‘the information that I get from you will help your son, and these are the services that we have had, and you may have taken him from job to job to job. But we have these services to help lighten the load off of you. But with your support and you networking with his new community supervision officer when he does get out of prison, it’ll be a better chance for him to have success.’ And I’m talking about a defendant that’s been ten years of jail for murder. But he hasn’t had the opportunity because every time he hits the street as far as with simple charges as attempted possession with intent to distribute like cocaine or something, he doesn’t see the ability to want to do better because he doesn’t have a support system out there. But just talking to the mother to let her know that it is important that she starts to help him understand, he’ll be able to be a better citizen.

Leonard Sipes: Heather, that’s a very interesting overview. I think you for being with us. Ladies and gentlemen, thank you.

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