When a criminal offender stands before the judge for sentencing, the judge relies on information obtained from a pre-sentence report prepared by a probation officer. This report contains information relevant to the defendant's crime and the defendant. Probation officers must know how to conduct effective probation interviews.
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An effective probation interview covers a wide range of material and can last anywhere from 15 minutes to two hours, depending on the individual and the crime. The interviewer will address the offence, background information, family and social history, substance abuse, mental health issues and general offender attitude.
Probation interviews are most often conducted in person when the defendant reports to the probation department. However, the probation officer may interview the defendant in jail or via teleconferencing equipment. In rare cases, probation officers will conduct a phone interview. Phone interviews are not preferred, due to the additional information the probation officer can obtain through the defendant's body language and non-verbal communication.
Probation officers must be prepared to receive less than truthful responses. Defendants can resist the interviewing process. Therefore, probation officers must be tactful but persistent. Open-ended questions, as opposed to those requiring 'yes' or 'no' responses, elicit additional information. While the probation officer has a legal right to be forceful or harsh, that approach is usually not effective.