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Family Involvement

I'm Convicted…Who Do I Tell?

You will have to decide who you are going to tell about your conviction and the best way to do so. The best approach is to inform those people who are going to be affected the most, especially, those who will miss you if you are facing a prison sentence. You will likely have feelings of anxiety, discomfort, and embarrassment as you tell your loved ones about your conviction, yet the feelings of relief and the support you will receive will outweigh keeping your conviction a secret. Besides, you will need the support of your family and friends in the future. 

One of the people who may need to know about your conviction is your employer, particularly if your job position presents a risk to them due to the nature of your offense. Typically, if you are under pretrial supervision, your supervising officer has already addressed this with you and provided some guidance in this area. By telling your employer as soon as possible, you show a willingness, to be honest, open, and eager to work with them.   

Telling your child about your offense will be difficult, and what you tell your child will depend on the age of your child, your relationship with your child, and other factors. In all situations, it is important, to be honest, and direct, and use terms that are easy for your child to understand. If you are going to prison, the other parent, or your child's guardian, may have difficulty explaining what has happened. You could explain to your child that adults have rules telling them how they should behave and that you did not obey those rules or laws. Explain that jail, or prison, is like a long "time out" for adults, what has happened is not their fault, and that you love them. It is also important that you explain any changes your child will undergo, such as moving to another home or school. Give your child a reasonable expectation of how frequently he or she will be able to see and contact you. Open communication is crucial, as is the ongoing reassurance and expression of love.

Probation Officer's Contact With Family Members or Significant Other

During the Presentence Report (PSR) process, the probation officer assigned to prepare your report will conduct a home visit or telephone interview with a family member or significant other. This allows for the probation officer to verify your background information, your community ties, and any information regarding your physical health, drug or alcohol abuse, and emotional health. It also provides an opportunity for the probation officer to assess your standard of living (an aspect of the financial investigation), and other factors that may be relevant to your sentencing or later supervision. This information is also relied upon by the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) in determining what treatment, educational, and rehabilitation programs for which you may be eligible. 

The information you provided about yourself to the probation officer should not be substantially different from the statements your family member, or a significant person told the probation officer about you. Any conflicting statements are usually reviewed with you in order to resolve them before the PSR is disclosed. Depending on the nature of the discrepancy, the contradicting information may be included in the PSR. Since the Court, the BOP, and your future probation officer rely on the information in the PSR, all efforts should be made to ensure that the report contains reliable information about you. Inaccurate information that is relied on by the Court or others may lead to unfair or unintended results. 

If you do not have legal status to be in the United States, the scope of your PSR may be limited; however, your report will still be a quality one. Many individuals who have no ties to the country are fearful that should the probation officer contact a family member or significant person that somehow their family member or significant person will be charged with a criminal offense, especially when those individuals may have no legal standing in the United States. Remember, the probation officer is only interested in you and your status, so it is helpful that you give the officer contact information of a family member or significant person.

In every case, it is important that the probation officer has the age and complete address of your family members. If you are sentenced to a prison term, the BOP refers to the PSR when approving your visitor list, and having this specific information in your report may expedite the visitation process and when you can have visitors. In addition, the probation officer will refer to the information when you are under supervision.  

Character Letters

Prior to your sentencing hearing, you may want to consider asking any person who knows you well to write a character letter on your behalf. A character letter highlights your positive qualities, tells how the person knows you on personal terms and acknowledges how you have accepted responsibility for your offense. The individuals writing a letter can include family members, friends, teachers, coaches, a leader of the community, church or any cultural group, a colleague, or even a boss. The person who is writing the letter should himself/herself display good character and have a good reputation. Your attorney can offer further guidance as to how the letter should be written, how to address the presiding Judge, and when the letter should be submitted to your attorney.

Sentencing:  Family and Friends in Court

The presence of family members, significant others, and friends during your sentencing hearing represent the support system you have and can rely on in the future. Discuss with your attorney who you want to attend your sentencing. Remember, your support system can help influence and motivate you to change your future decisions and actions in a positive way.   

During your sentencing hearing, you and your attorney will have the opportunity to address the Court before the sentence is imposed. Witnesses can also address the Court on your behalf. It is important to be prepared and always speak truthfully to the Judge. Discuss with your attorney what you intend to say, as well as what your witnesses will say during this important Court appearance.