Looking Deeper

In pre-sentence investigations, what might happen if we could take needs and personal assets as seriously as we consider risks? Imagine if we were serious about understanding how and why each person has gotten involved in the criminal justice system and about keeping them from getting deeper into it.

Here’s what I mean.

What motivations were behind what they did or are being prosecuted for? Such as personal safety.

What traumas and adverse childhood experiences have they experienced, or are they still experiencing? How much recovery have they been able to do?

What assets have they had access to, or not? Such as educational time and quality. Quality nutrition. Family time. Support for positive socialization through libraries, preschool and after-school programs, and experiences with creative arts and media.

What positive things has the person been involved in? Such as sports, family time, study, work, and exploring their spirituality.

In the context of all this, what has the person also done that indicates they may pose a risk to the community? Maybe when we see the bigger picture, we might conclude that the person is not appropriate for detention or imprisonment. Their assets may outweigh their risk, and it would be detrimental to their long-term well-being to take away their physical freedom. Not only that, but the disruption of their life may be so detrimental to the community in the long term that it’s well beyond the safety benefit (if any) of removing them.

A more thorough exploration of a person’s assets and needs would also improve an agency’s ability to target its interventions and supports to respond specifically to the situation of that person.

High caseloads prevent staff from collecting information on this broader context. But funding earlier in the process could greatly reduce expenditures on incarceration and on many tangible or less-tangible costs connected with people getting back on their feet after a period in custody.