The Presentence Investigation Report (PSR) prepared by a U.S. Probation Officer is one of the most important documents in the federal criminal sentencing process, providing a basis for sentencing decisions made by the Court. In preparing the report, U.S. Probation Officers function as independent fact finders for the Court and provide the Court with relevant, unbiased information.
To complete the presentence report, a probation officer conducts a thorough investigation into the circumstances of the offense and the person's criminal background and personal characteristics. The officer gathers information two ways: by conducting interviews and by reviewing documents. The cornerstone of the investigation is the interview with the individual, during which the officer inquires about the individual's family, education, employment, finances, physical and mental health, and substance abuse history. The officer also conducts a home visit to assess the individual's living conditions, family relationships, and community ties, as well as interviews other people who can provide pertinent information about the person (i.e., a spouse, child, parent, employer) and the offense (victims, prosecutor, investigating agent, co-conspirators).
Though the primary purpose of the PSR is to assist the Court in its sentencing function, the report is also a valuable resource to the Bureau of Prisons in determining which institution the person being sentenced will serve his/her sentence and in selecting appropriate prison programs, as well as for future supervision of the individual by the U.S. Probation Office upon release from prison. The information contained in each section of the report provides these agencies with valuable intelligence, which will assist them in their respective functions. Thus, it is crucial that the U.S. Probation Officer present complete, verified information regarding the individual's background, character, and conduct.