Presentence investigations in Probation Service – Creative Solutions in Bureaucratic Institutions
Abstract: The presentence investigation (personutredning) provides a foundation upon which the courts base their decision in sentence deliberation. It is a task performed mainly by probation officers who work for the Swedish Prison and Probation Service, a public administration authority. The organisation’s structure is bureaucratic in nature, much the same as many other public authorities; the activities are rationalized through laws and directives. Max Weber regarded the bureaucratic structure to be the most effective and rational form of organising activity with impersonal rules minimising the need for discretion and personal judgement. The presentence investigation might well be such an activity, rationalized by instructions conveyed in the directive and legal text. However, texts have to be interpreted by human subjects and words have no intrinsic meaning. The objective of this study was to understand the extent to which the task is rationalized and at the same time examine the extent of the demand for personal judgement, bearing in mind the enormous power inherent in the task, the power to affect the future of an individual. What I found after interviewing six probation officers was that the task demanded a degree of interpretation greater than was expected, as well as a degree of personal judgement and an opportunity to apply the Aristotelean phronesis or practical wisdon that one would wish to be present in all social workers who make such far-reaching decisions.
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