Justice system writing analyzed

Writing about the criminal justice system--specifically the genre of investigation reports crafted by probation officers before criminals are sentenced--is the central focus of a newly published article by Caren Converse, UCSB Writing Program lecturer.

The article in the October issue of the Journal of Business and Technical Communication is titled “Unpoetic Justice: Ideology and the Individual in the Genre of the Presentence Investigation."

It describes changing requirements for pre-sentencing reports and analyzes how these reflect an evolution in ideologies about the criminal justice system. For example, Converse describes how some courts have switched from requiring narrative writing about a criminal’s background to more a formulaic listing of information, in a purported attempt to be more objective.

Instead of underscoring a belief in the individual offender’s ability to be rehabilitated, the change in rhetoric emphasizes justice as a means to ensure accountability to society through uniform procedures and sentencing. In the process, she observes: “What emerges is an ambiguous and contradictory genre at odds with the philosophy of individualized justice underpinning its origins, a genre that has eschewed narrative for the sake of objectivity.”

Converse uses the frameworks of genre theory and activity systems to analyze documents as well as the statutes and regulations that govern the reports. Ultimately, her analysis of this workplace genre deals with, in the words of one of her sources, “good and evil weighed in the balance.”