The Worrying Trend of Unrealistic Pre-Sentence Reports
As a criminal defence firm, we are seeing a worrying trend of completely unrealistic pre-sentence reports in cases where immediate custody is inevitable and, yet, the PSR recommends a community order.
We have had a series of reports, almost identical in their conclusions, prepared for Courts across the length of the country.
These reports demonstrate, in all cases we have seen, the genuine remorse felt by the individual and the perceived chance of them re-offending, however they fail to take the sentencing guidelines into account at all.
In one case, where the sentencing guidelines suggested that a realistic and fair sentence would be one of 8-10 years’, the pre-sentence report recommended a community order and was described by the Judge as “not worth the paper it’s written on”.
This trend troubles us because it is only natural for the individual, who has been told by us to prepare for an immediate custodial and who usually appears to have come to accept that, to then have their hopes raised.
Perhaps the PSR is correct, they wonder.
Perhaps it’s our advice that is wrong.
And they begin to imagine the moment they walk out of Court after their sentencing hearing. They begin to plan for the second chance they will have. The changes they will make, the support they will seek, or perhaps the celebration they will have.
But they don’t walk free.
They are sentenced to immediate custody, just as we advised would happen, but the sentence is a crashing blow instead of something we have spent weeks – or months – carefully preparing them for.
We are certain that these unrealistic pre-sentence reports are written with the best of intentions by kind-hearted people who genuinely hope the decent individuals sitting them before are given a community order.
But they are dangerous.
My firm have now begun to advise all clients in this position to expect an unrealistic pre-sentence report. To expect the recommendation of a community order. And to discard it.
It’s a sensitive, difficult job to prepare a person for custody, especially a person who has not been in prison before. It’s often a process that involves their whole family. It’s a job we take seriously.
It requires assertiveness – the person must be left in no doubt that they will go to prison. Anything less clear than this may be softer for them to hear in the short-term, but will only cause the inevitable sentence to be a crushing blow.
It also requires kindness – answering questions that most people never think they will have to ask, like what belongings they can take with them, whether they will get to kiss their loved ones goodbye after the hearing. Very often, the person will be appearing strong for their family, and may only show their true fear and worry to us.
It’s a job that requires us to listen, sympathise, reassure, while remaining definite in the fact that custody will be imposed. And, of course, while silently assessing the person’s welfare. Will this person be a suicide risk once imprisoned?
It’s a difficult job but one that we strive to do to the best of our abilities.
And a realistic, harder-to-write and harder-to-read pre-sentence report that accepted custody as inevitable and advised as to number of years, would help everyone.
It would give more meaningful guidance to the Court.
It would, in reality, make very little difference to us.
But for our clients, the individuals who will not walk out of the Court room in celebration at escaping a close call, it would allow them to face their sentence based on extensive preparation, not after a false hope they threw their hearts into believing.