What is a probation report?

Written by elizabeth (lisa)thompson
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What is a probation report?
A judge reads probation reports before he sentences a defendant. (judge 5 image by Mykola Velychko from Fotolia.com)

Before a judge sentences a person, he orders the probation department to prepare a report on the defendant with information regarding sentencing, called a probation report or a presentence report. After he reads the report and the recommendation of the probation officer, he makes a final determination regarding sentencing.

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The judge orders the probation report to be written by the probation officer and orders the defendant to contact the probation department for a report. The probation officer interviews the defendant. She investigates background information, including material obtained from the defendant, interested parties and victims. She then submits the report to the judge. This process takes from three to five weeks.


The probation report contains relevant factors to the defendant's sentencing. These include criminal history, information from the police report, the defendant's statement and victim and interested party statements. In addition, the report may include information on the defendant's upbringing, education, work history, substance abuse issues and current family situation. Finally, the probation officer includes a sentencing recommendation.

Sentencing Factors

Sentencing factors can be divided into two groups--aggravating and mitigating. Aggravating factors can lengthen sentences; mitigating factors can lessen sentences. Some of these factors include the circumstances surrounding the present offence, the defendant's need for treatment of any type, the defendant's age, criminal history and willingness to participate in probation. The court also considers victim statements and the best interests of justice.

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