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Evaluation of Experimental Bail Supervision Schemes - Research Findings

DescriptionThe services were to offer a feasible alternative to custody for the courts through the addition of supervision of the conditions which could be applied to standard bail.
ISBN
Official Print Publication Date
Website Publication DateOctober 21, 1999
Social Work Research Findings No. 28
Evaluation of Experimental Bail Supervision Schemes

Ewen McCaig and Jeremy Hardin

Publisher The Scottish Office
Proposals for experimental bail supervision services were accepted by The Scottish Office in 1994. The services were to offer a feasible alternative to custody for the courts through the addition of supervision to the conditions which could be applied to standard bail plus the availability of support to deal with circumstances which may have contributed to past offending. The services were piloted in Edinburgh and Glasgow Sheriff courts.
Main Findings
  • The Edinburgh and Glasgow schemes operated differently. Edinburgh targeted solemn procedure cases where the accused were already on remand and Glasgow targeted accused in summary procedure cases prior to their appearance at custody court.
  • One hundred and thirty-eight remand prisoners were referred to the Edinburgh scheme over the monitoring period. One hundred and twenty assessments were subsequently conducted by the scheme. Forty-four per cent (53) of those were accepted by bail officers after assessment as suitable for supervision. Of this group, 41% (22) were given supervised bail by the court. The costs per supervised bailee were relatively high in Edinburgh (£2,927) but alleged offending on bail was low (18%).
  • Two hundred and forty-five referrals were made to the Glasgow scheme over the monitor period. Two hundred and thirty-five assessments were subsequently conducted by the scheme. Forty-five percent (107) of those were accepted by bail officers as suitable for supervision. Of this group, 63% (67) were given supervised bail by the court. The Glasgow scheme was cheaper per bailee (£624), but alleged offending while on bail was high (40%).
Introduction
Proposals for experimental bail supervision services were accepted by The Scottish Office in 1994. The primary objectives of the supervision schemes were to:
  • identify and provide services for those people on, or at risk of, a custodial remand who, if supervision services were available, could be considered for bail, either before trial or before sentence;
  • develop services in association with bail, which facilitate the protection of the public by addressing the risks of offending on bail.
The main aim of the research was to evaluate how far the bail supervision services achieved their primary objectives and to establish whether they are an efficient and effective addition to the bail services already provided by the two schemes.
Methodology
The evaluation included monitoring cases involving bail supervision over a 9 month period, February 1995 - November 1995, to establish characteristics of accused referred to the services: age, offending profile and current and past charges. It also involved interviews with scheme administrators, bail officers, court practitioners and bailees. This information was set in the context of results of an examination of the characteristics of accused not involved in bail supervision. The cost of bail supervision was also calculated.
Key differences
The schemes were found to operate differently due mostly to their different target groups: Edinburgh targeted solemn procedure cases where the accused were already on remand; and Glasgow targeted accused in summary procedure cases prior to their appearance at custody court. This resulted in key differences between the schemes: those targeted in Edinburgh were facing more serious charges; more detailed and lengthy assessments were conducted in Edinburgh; longer supervision periods in Edinburgh allowed more opportunity for support services to be provided. Shorter bail periods in Glasgow meant that more bailees could be supervised.
Referral and assessment
One hundred and thirty-eight remand prisoners were referred to the Edinburgh scheme over the monitoring period. The two hundred and forty-five referrals made to the Glasgow scheme were all considered to be at a high risk of being remanded in custody at their initial appearance in court.
One hundred and twenty assessments were conducted in Edinburgh. Two hundred and thirty-five assessments were conducted by the Glasgow scheme. Just over half of those assessed in both schemes were rejected by bail officers as unsuitable for bail supervision.
Fifty-six per cent (67) of those assessed were rejected in Edinburgh following a detailed assessment which allowed the scheme to identify and reject unsuitable candidates. Remand time was increased as a result of the lengthy assessment and criticisms were made by defence agents and bailees that the assessment process took long.
Fifty-five per cent (128) of those assessed by the Glasgow scheme were rejected by bail officers as unsuitable for bail supervision. Assessments in Glasgow were completed on the day of the accused's first court appearance, reducing remand time and any further exposure to custody, but were less thorough and often relied on a previous social worker's testimony as the basis for a decision.
Application for supervised bail
Twenty-two (41%) of the accused accepted by the Edinburgh scheme at assessment were granted supervised bail by the court. Where the court did not grant bail this was generally because of the accused's criminal history. In Glasgow, 67 (63%) of the accused accepted by the scheme at assessment received supervised bail. However, the research suggests that 13 (20%) of this group might have received standard bail if supervised bail had not been offered. This is because they were under 20 and lacked custodial experience.
Supervision period
Bail supervision in Edinburgh focused on addressing offending behaviour and protecting the public and 82% of supervised bailees were given support services which they felt were of benefit to them. Most Edinburgh bailees attended supervision appointments and only four (18%) were breached for failing to attend. While it can be argued that this was a function of the level of supervision and support provided, it might also be a consequence of targeting. In addition, Edinburgh bailees were aware of the potentially serious consequences of breaching given the severity of their current charges: on both schemes older bailees were less likely than younger bailees to breach bail and Edinburgh bailees tended to be older than Glasgow bailees. The Edinburgh scheme's capacity to enforce supervised bail conditions was limited and police and procurators fiscal did not take immediate action for the four cases for which bail officers initiated breach proceeding for failing to attend appointments.
In Glasgow, accused were on the scheme for an average of four weeks and there was therefore little opportunity for the scheme to provide more than practical support, mainly on housing and financial matters. Just under half of the Glasgow supervised bailees adhered to the conditions of supervision. Thirteen (19%) had breach procedures initiated against them for failing to attend supervision.
Offending on bail
Eighteen per cent of the supervised bailees on the Edinburgh scheme allegedly offended while on supervised bail. In contrast 40% of the supervised bailees on the Glasgow scheme allegedly offended while on supervised bail. This higher level of bail abuse might be linked to a combination of factors such as the speedy assessment process and the low level of support provided, or as a result of targeting: most who breached were under 20 and/or had no previous custodial experience. This suggests that the seriousness of their current situation had yet to be realised.
Costs
The cost of providing the Edinburgh scheme was high: £2,927 per bailee. The total cost of providing bail supervision there exceeded any remand cost savings by £19,098. The cost of providing the Glasgow service was low: £624 per bailee. However, the periods on remand there were much shorter. The total cost of bail supervision exceeded savings in remand costs by £14,605.
Conclusion
A sufficient number of applications for bail were successful to allow both schemes to work to full capacity for much of the research monitoring period. In Edinburgh 22 accused, who would otherwise have served their period of remand in full, were released on supervised bail. In Glasgow 67 supervised bailees were admitted to the scheme, approximately 80% of whom would otherwise have been remanded in custody.
It appears that Edinburgh was largely successful in developing services which address the risk of offending whilst on bail. While this can be attributed in part to the characteristics of the target group and the assessment process, it appears that the support and supervision services were effective in reducing risk. The Glasgow scheme was less effective in this respect because of the limitations imposed by the speedy assessment process and the short time available for support. It was evident that some young supervised bailees did not take the scheme seriously.
The study was conducted by Ewen McCaig and Jeremy Hardin. It was funded by the Home Department of The Scottish Office.
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