Assessment process within the probation and youth justice system

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The purpose of this assessment exercise is to examine the assessment process within the probation and youth justice system. Such examination will take place on the basis of the case study provided of Irene Glover. In addition to utilising the information provided in the case study and classroom activity, this assessment will make use of relevant literature on the issue of offender assessment in particular, in addition to wider considerations pertaining to the criminal justice system in general.

When undertaking an assessment of this kind, a variety of considerations are important. In terms of providing an effective basis on which to compile a pre-sentence report, prior convictions are obviously of paramount concern (Farrell & Calverley, 2005). As such, any effective assessment of Irene would initially be reliant on the assessment of prior criminal activity. The foremost benefit derived from such assessment is risk (Farrell & Calverley, 2005). Through analysis and greater understanding of prior criminal activity, criminal justice practitioners are potentially able to gage the possible risk posed by an individual, both to themselves and other people. Irene's prior convictions clearly indicate a long association with crime and the criminal justice system. Although many of the crimes which have been committed are relatively mild in severity, Irene nonetheless has a record of criminal activity which stretches from 1973 to 2008. As such, she could be viewed as a habitual offender and thus could certainly pose a future risk.

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In addition, criminal justice practitioners need to effectively account for the number of other trends and indicators when the assessment of risk is undertaken. Farrell & Calverley (2005) point out that the tendency to commit crime is often inextricably linked to social circumstances. As such, it is essential that any assessment of Irene effectively account for such social issues in a way which provides the assessment with a series of underlying causes for her behaviour. The classroom activity highlighted the degree to which Irene has suffered from alienation. The fact that she still lives alone personifies the extent to which she is evidently lacking close social networks such as family, friends and community. Comprehensively documenting and accounting for such underlying social phenomena is an essential component of carrying out effective assessment. Moreover, if certain social circumstances have served to negatively affect Irene's behaviour then this is certainly a paramount issue for the future pre-sentence report. Although this assessment exercise is focused solely on the assessment process as opposed to sentencing, it is nevertheless important to note that underlying factors such as a lack of beneficial social networks are important considerations not only for the assessment of Irene, but also for possible future punitive action taken against her.

When carrying out an assessment of this nature it is vital that criminal justice practitioners take account of issues which may affect the individuals' actions (Gibson & Cavadino, 2008). As suggested above, wider social and societal factors are of paramount concern; however, it is equally important for practitioners to account for personally related problems which may provide greater understanding of the criminal acts which have taken place (Gibson & Cavadino, 2008). Once again, such assessment offers the possibility of greater understanding of the underlying causes of the criminal activity. In the case of Irene, both the classroom assessment and the basic information provided highlights the degree to which alcohol has been a consistent problem for a number of years. In particular, since 1993 a number of the offences committed by Irene have been alcohol related. Indeed, the present assault crime with which Irene may be charged occurred in the early hours of a Sunday morning, thus it is most likely that alcohol played a part in this crime also. Therefore, the assessment of potential risk must take account of such problems and the degree to which underlying alcoholism is acting as a direct contributory factor in Irene's criminal activity. Given this, practitioners dealing with Irene could potentially utilise assessment tools such as inter-agency collaborative partnerships. Gibson & Cavadino (2008) suggests that since the mid 1990s the increasing focus on multiagency collaboration in social policy has been given more prevalence. Therefore, medical professionals would certainly work in conjunction with criminal justice practitioners in the formulation of the assessment and later pre-sentence report. On this basis it would then be possible to formulate a set of assumptions regarding the extent of Irene's alcohol problem and the degree to which it is impacting upon her behaviour. Furthermore, such collaboration would equally involve other stakeholders such as social workers.

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In addition to the issues outline above, criminal justice practitioners would also be required to investigate further issues relating to Irene's condition. As suggested above, social networks and any drug related dependency would be of paramount concern. However, in addition it is equally vital that issues relating to Irene's working and living environment are addressed. The classroom exercise highlighted how the area in which Irene lives suffers from low levels of development, high rates of crime and general poor economic and employment opportunities. Understanding this background is important for the assessment firstly because it allows for an effective judgement to be made with regards to further underlying causes. However, in addition it would also be possible to project an assessment of how Irene could develop in the period following conviction. Thus, the tendency to commit further crimes may be a result of the social circumstances in which Irene resides. If this is so, then both the assessment and pre-sentence report must take account of such factors.

The assessment of Irene must also consider the possible outcomes of any sentencing. Once again, although this exercise if primarily concerned with assessment as opposed to sentencing, it is essential that the impact of previous sentencing is examined in the assessment process. Krohn et al (2009) point out that assessing previous sentencing action can give an indication as to how the individual has responded in the past to action undertaken by the courts. Furthermore, in recent years there has been an increasing willingness within the criminal justice system to avoid custodial sentences where possible (Krohn et al, 2009). In particular, low level crimes such as those committed by Irene generally do not result in prison sentences. However, it would certainly be beneficial for the assessment to take account of the fact that previous non-custodial sentences have done nothing to alter Irene's criminal inclinations. Thus, a custodial sentence may be appropriate. However, Krohn et al (2009) point out that custodial sentences for low level crimes often result in the individual gaining increased knowledge of criminal processes whilst in prison as a result of being surrounding by more serious criminal elements. As such, this is also a key issue of concern, both for the assessment and the pre-sentence report which follows on from it.

Farrell & Calverley (2005) suggests that in recent years increasing focus has been placed on the extent to which the criminal justice system itself serves to perpetuate criminal activity. In particular, one key issue has been the manner in which individuals become engrained into the criminal justice system for long periods of their life. Farrell & Calverley (2005) point out that significant academic attention has been to this issue however the essential problem remains unresolved, just as with similar difficulties which have developed in relation to welfare dependency. In the classroom exercise Irene suggested that she has spent a considerable amount of time in the criminal justice system and it is therefore possible to suggest that she has become accustomed to the system itself. Such continued exposure to criminal justice processes creates a degree of familiarity with the system which is unhelpful for long term resolution to crime related problems. As such, the fact that Irene is heavily engrained into the system must be accounted for in the assessment in addition to possible methods which could be adopted to resolve the problem. Krohn (2009) suggests that possible alternatives to the traditional criminal justice process could include a more prominent role for social services or occupational therapists. Indeed, the use of such professionals may serve to effectively break the cycle which Irene is clearly in at the present juncture.

The various discussions and assessments undertaken above have highlighted the essential issues relating to the assessment of Irene. What is clear is that Irene has persistent criminal tendencies which date back many decades. However, given that many of the crimes she has committed are low level in nature, then the assessment and pre-sentence report would benefit from making recommendations which avoid further entanglement in the criminal justice system. Given that both the classroom exercise and the information on the case itself highlight clear social foundations for Irene's behaviour, then it is certainly credible to suggest that possible resolution to Irene's criminal actions could lie outside the traditional processes of criminal justice. Given the seriousness of the present crime, it is also possible that a measure of restorative justice could be adopted in a way which shows Irene the wider consequences of her actions.

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