The Importance of a Mitigation Specialist
Season 6 episode 4's special guest was mitigation specialist Ronda Swenson. Ms. Swenson is currently working on Death Penalty Cases, juvenile transfers and Franklin/ Youth Offender Parole (YOP) cases. She has extensive education including a bachelors and masters degrees and completed 2 years of law school as well as courses towards completion of a PhD. Ms. Swenson is a forensic social worker and has over 20 years of experience in working in the legal field. She began as a paralegal but spent the majority of her career as a social worker/investigator. Ms. Swenson works on serious felonies, Franklins and Millers, juvenile transfers, and capital cases on both state and federal levels.
What is a Mitigation Specialist?
Mitigation Specialist create comprehensive psychosocial biographies of adult and juvenile clients who face incarceration. The biographies should include all relevant information to paint a picture of who the client is aside from the incident that led to court involvement. The information collected by the the mitigation specialist is used to aid in consideration that the client should receive less harsh sentencing or allowed alternatives to incarceration.
Mitigation is generally responsible for telling clients stories, trying to humanize them to judges, district attorneys, and jurors in hopes of mitigating the sentences.
When is a mitigation specialist needed?
Ms. Swenson believes that mitigation specialist should be utilized and at the forefront in all cases not just in the sentencing stage. Mitigation is required in all capital cases. In 1976, the Supreme Court ruled jurors could consider mitigating factors based on the diverse frailties of humankind when deciding death penalty or life in prison. Ms. Swenson's services are also crucial in these cases:
Consideration for resentencing an individual who was convicted under the age of 26 and who was given a lengthy sentence
Resentencing for youths previous sentenced to life without parole
Transfer youths to adult court
Recall a sentence and resentence a person to a lesser sentence
25 years to life for certain felony offenses if you use a gun in the commission of the crime.
additional punishment to a felony imposed to an individual who committed the initial infraction for the benefit of or in association with gang.
The above mentioned are specific to California. Although there may be similar policies or laws in your state.
What is included in mitigation report?
Ms. Swenson combines her sociology, legal, education, and compassion to researching and compiling an individuals life story and community and social upbringing.
Our system focuses so much on the crime that we forget that if all these other things didn't happen, the person wouldn't have committed the crime.
She reminds us that poverty, community violence, mental illness, abuse, academic struggles, intergenerational trauma and inadequate supports among other things contribute to an individual's mind state and propensity to break the law. Client's are often taught their story does not matter or they are simply the sum of their actions. Ms. Swenson creates a visual social history for her clients. It includes pictures of the client, client's family, community and racial justice issues that were going on at the time of the offense. Mitigation specialist take care not to retraumatize their clients rather to help them connect the dots and begin to understand why they acted in that manner. Success is not just release or reduced sentence it is also how the work impacts the clients.
What training is needed to become a Mitigation Specialist?
Mitigation specialists are commonly forensic social workers which typically requires a master's degree (including specific coursework), clinical training, and forensic certificate. Ms. Swenson believes that education pathway is broader. She emphasized how her sociology background regularly assists her in looking at the impact of society. Strong writing skills are essential. Overall, she notes that anyone can do this work if they are passionate, dedicated, pursue training,
People connect to stories; we want people to connect to our clients, so we have to be able to tell stories.
Ronda Swenson's webiste
Resentencing laws have been passed California, Washington, Louisiana, Illinois and Oregon.
Federal Second Look Act
National Alliance of Sentencing Advocates and Mitigation Specialists