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Resisting Risk Assessment? Pre-sentence Reports and Individualized Sentencing in Denmark

NCJ Number
Punishment and Society Volume: 12 Issue: 3 Dated: July 2010 Pages: 329-347
Rasmus H. Wandall
Date Published
July 2010
19 pages
This article describes the production and use of pre-sentence reports in the process of sentencing.
This article places the use of pre-sentence reports in Danish courts in the context of recent transnational trends toward the increasing use of risk assessments. Based on empirical studies of court decisionmaking processes, the article describes the production and use of pre-sentence reports on three levels of communication in the process of sentencing: preparation of reports; formal and explicit use in the courtroom; and informal and implicit use in the courtroom. The findings reveal two different modes of construction of individual defendants. One represents a modernist-welfare narrative, institutionalized in the framework of pre-sentence reports already in 1930. This narrative applies individualized assessments of the defendant's relevant social resources to target the use of alternatives to imprisonment. The other construction echoes more recent penal changes and brings categorical risk assessment to the strategic targeting of high risk offenders for imprisonment. The empirical evidence suggests that the courtroom decisionmaking process is formally and explicitly dominated by a modernist-welfare account. However, at the same time and at the level of informal and implicit communication, the courtroom process provides ample room for constructions echoing more recent penal change toward risk assessment. Notes and references (Published Abstract)