Experiences of Supervised Bail

This report outlines in details the findings of interviews with people who had been on supervised bail. These interviews explored the bailees experiences of supervised bail and the perceived impact of supervised bail on bailee's lives and behaviour. These interviews formed one strand of a wider research project on supervised bail, and a report on the full findings of this project is published alongside this report

3 Discussion

3.1 It is clear then, that for these bailees, four things led to a perceived positive impact of supervised bail: understanding it as an alternative to remand, a positive relationship with the supervisor, flexibility around timing and frequency of meetings and around types of support provided, and positive feedback in terms of praise, rewards for attendance in the forms of reduced contact, and positive feedback on completion of a supervised bail order.

3.2 On the other hand, supervised bail did not appear to have a positive impact on bailee's lives and outlook when it was not seen as an alternative to remand, when meeting times were disruptive to their wider lives, and meetings were short or unproductive, or when bailees did not feel they could relate to or talk to supervisors.

3.3 The perceived impact of supervised bail on the lives and behaviour of bailees varied across the sample, from being inconvenient and embarrassing, to having a profoundly positive effect on behaviour and life ambitions. Likewise, impact on offending varied, with some bailees (re)offending while on supervised bail. It is notable, however, that some also talked with a sense of pride about how they had regularly offended while on regular bail, but not once while on supervised bail.

3.4 Returning, then, to the aim of supervised bail, being to decrease use of remand and to prevent offending on bail, it seems that for some (but not all) bailees, supervised bail not only supported them to not offend while on bail, but had an impact on their sentence, on their wider life such as employment and relationships with family, and potentially also on their longer term behaviour.

3.5 And so, in regards to the theories of change in the logic model at the start of the report, we can start to build a picture of how the activities of supervised bail (the meetings, discussions and signposting) can lead to short term impact on their attitudes (to bail workers, to themselves, and their motivation to comply), medium term impact on their behaviour (compliance with supervised bail, continued attendance and engagement in bail meetings and signposted services, change in wider behaviour) and, potentially, long term impact on their social conditions (adopting a pro-social identity, reduced (re)offending, enhanced employability, and improved family relationships and mental health).

3.6 Reflecting the desistance literature, we have seen that for the bailees interviewed, the nature of the relationship with the bail workers was crucial to the outcomes in the logic model to be realised. This relationship was ideally respectful and flexible, and bailees often believed that their bail workers were genuinely committed to their wellbeing, which in some cases clearly inspired a sense of loyalty amongst bailees which encouraged them to change or moderate their behaviour, echoing Rex's findings with probationers (1999).

3.7 We saw that some of the bailees described a shift in identity over time, often from a criminal youth to a law abiding, successful adulthood. This reflects the development of a pro-social identity as outlined by Farrell (2005) and McNeill (2009). As in the literature, the discovery of agency and subsequent identity change were linked to bigger life changes such as 'growing up' or becoming a parent, and were not attributed to supervised bail. However some bailees made a clear link between their bail supervision and the change in their attitudes and behaviour, where bail workers had encouraged them to think and behave in a different way, and aspire to longer term goals like employment, desistance, or good or better parenting.

3.8 Here we can return to the theory of planned behaviour, and consider whether the relationship with their bail workers could be said to have impacted on bailee's attitudes to offending, the social pressure they felt in terms of offending behaviour, and their perceived control over their own offending behaviour.

3.9 First, as above, bailees described a change in their attitudes towards offending, from a past where they 'didn't care' to a present where they were not 'interested in trouble'. This is not necessarily linked to supervised bail, though some bailees interviewed did make a link between attitude change and the supervision experience.

3.10 Secondly, and more directly attributable to supervised bail itself, it can be argued that having an active relationship with a bail worker can influence the social pressure bailees feel to behave in a law abiding way. There are two important points here about subjective norm - the social pressure people feel in regards to a behaviour is not stable, i.e. it can change over time, and the amount of influence on this that particular individuals, groups, and other sources (for example media) have depends upon the relationship that a person has with them. I would argue that the methods used to date to measure subjective norm by those trying to predict offending behaviour (asking how many peers have been in prison in Forste et al 2011, and about the views of 'most people you know' in Kiriakidis 2008) do not take into account this weighting and fluctuation.

3.11 It is entirely plausible to suggest that the trusting relationship that can develop between a bailee and their bail worker, as evidenced above, can earn the supervisor a role as an important source of 'social pressure', and in that way they can work to influence a bailee's social norm, and thereby influence their intentions and behaviour. We can see this in the examples where bailees talked about thinking about advice from their bail workers when in potentially criminogenic situations, where social pressure from supervisors came in direct conflict with social pressure from peers.

3.12 Finally, it could be argued that the concept of perceived behavioural control resonates with McNeil's conception of the discovery of agency associated with early desistance. Again, it is clear from the examples in Box 1 that some bailees interviewed felt that supervisors had taught them that they had the option to walk away from volatile situations, in other words, that they had control over their behaviour, and could choose not to offend[8]. The quote in case study 5 shows another example where a bailee described being taught by his supervisors that he 'can do lots with himself'.

3.13 The findings of the interviews, then, together with evidence from desistance literature and the theory of planned behaviour, suggest that the theories of change in the logic model introduced earlier in this report can be substantiated, demonstrating that where the four conditions outlined above are met, that is, where supervised bail is seen as an alternative to remand, where a positive, engaged relationship with the bail worker is established, where meetings and support are flexible, and where positive feedback is given, supervised bail is capable of impacting on bailee's attitudes, behaviours, and long term conditions. There are clearly important external factors here - including the bailee's life circumstances, and their attitude and motivation levels on beginning supervised bail. Nonetheless, it is clear that supervised bail has the potential to have a marked impact on bailee's lives in the short, medium, and potentially long term.


Email: Carole Wilson

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