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Assisting and advising the sentencing decision process : the pursuit of 'quality' in pre-sentence reports

Tata, Cyrus and Burns, Nicola and Halliday, Simon and Hutton, Neil and McNeill, Fergus (2008) Assisting and advising the sentencing decision process : the pursuit of 'quality' in pre-sentence reports. British Journal of Criminology, 48 (6). pp. 835-855. ISSN 0007-0955

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Abstract

Pre-sentence reports are an increasingly prevalent feature of the sentencing process. Yet, although judges have been surveyed about their general views, we know relatively little about how such reports are read and interpreted by judges considering sentence in specific cases, and, in particular, how these judicial interpretations compare with the intentions of the writers of those same reports. This article summarizes some of the main findings of a four-year qualitative study in Scotland examining: how reports are constructed by report writers; what the writers aim to convey to the sentencing judge; and how those same reports are then interpreted and used in deciding sentence. Policy development has been predicated on the view that higher-quality reports will help to 'sell' community penalties to the principal consumers of such reports (judges). This research suggests that, in the daily use and interpretation of reports, this quality-led policy agenda is defeated by a discourse of judicial 'ownership' of sentencing.