Supervised bail in Scotland is a social work or third sector service whereby those who would otherwise be put on remand (that is, imprisoned while awaiting trial) are released on bail on the condition that they meet with a bail supervisor a specified number of times a week, with the aim of supporting accused to comply with bail conditions and reducing remand numbers.
This report outlines the findings of an evaluation of the impact of supervised bail in Scotland which comprised of: analysis of case level data, a workshop with supervised bail workers, surveys of members of the judiciary and Procurators Fiscal, interviews with people who had been on supervised bail, and economic analysis of supervised bail as an alternative to remand.
Supervised bail schemes are in place in most, but not all, Local Authority areas in Scotland, but uptake of the service has been declining in recent years.
Potential bailees (i.e. accused who are likely to be remanded) are screened by bail workers, either in the cells by court based bail workers, or by referral from other justice professionals, such as defence agents. Lack of appropriate and timely processes for getting information to bail workers about the people in the cells and Procurator Fiscal bail positions hinders this screening process where bail workers are court based, and awareness of supervised bail amongst justice professionals may affect referral rates where schemes rely on their referrals.
The primary target group of supervised bail is borderline remand cases. The findings suggest that there are some cases where supervised bail is applied where the accused would not have been remanded, but these are rare. This means that there is little 'net-widening' of supervised bail. A clear understanding that supervised bail is an alternative to remand is important to bailees' understanding of the purpose of the supervision.
Data shows that supervised bail is being targeted specifically, but not exclusively, at young people and female accused, and members of the judiciary surveyed were supportive of it being targeted at young people, single parents and carers, and those with mental health problems. This secondary layer of targeting was seen as less useful than the first.
The frequency, duration, and location of supervised bail meetings varied, and some bailee's contacts were reduced to fit around new employment or education, allowing them to take up these opportunities, or as a reward for good attendance and behaviour, which was the source of a real sense of pride for some.
Three quarters of bail supervision orders studied were completed successfully, and bail workers felt that breach rates were low. Some bailees described having previously breached regular bail or electronic tags, but talked with pride about fully complying with supervised bail. Members of the judiciary who believed that breach rates were low said that this influenced their use of supervised bail.
A fifth of cases where there had been a supervised bail order resulted in prison sentences, two fifths resulted in community sentences, and the remaining had resulted in another disposal, or no disposal where the accused had been found not guilty or the case had been dropped. Evidence from case level data, bailee interviews and the judicial survey suggested that successful completion of supervised bail encouraged the use of community sentences over prison sentences.
Most bailees interviewed talked positively about supervised bail and its impact on their behaviour and lives in the short and sometimes also the long term, with some describing it as a catalyst for long term desistance from offending. This positive impact was due to being in the community rather than prison while on supervised bail, having a good relationship with their bail worker, flexibility around meetings and support, and receiving positive feedback throughout and at the end of an order. These four things were not experienced by the one bailee for whom supervised bail was not a positive experience.
The economic analysis found that the net benefits of supervised bail as an alternative to remand over the three years examined were between £2 million and £13 million, and that the average cost of a supervised bail case would need to rise by between 75% and 560% for supervised bail to no longer be cost effective.
There are ongoing issues which may explain the recent decline in the use of supervised bail. These could be addressed by ensuring good processes are in place for supervised bail screening and by tackling lack of awareness and buy in among the judiciary, Procurators Fiscal and defence agents. Dealing with these issues could reverse the decline in the use of supervised bail, though we do not know how many 'borderline' cases exist, so we cannot estimate with any certainty how far the use can be increased.
In conclusion, while supervised bail cannot guarantee that accused will not breach their conditions, it is a useful tool for encouraging and supporting compliance in a way not possible with standard bail conditions. And beyond its primary aim of reducing use of remand, and supporting compliance, supervised bail can in some cases assist bailees with their longer term process of desistance from offending behaviour.
This can only happen in the specific kind of 'borderline' cases for which supervised bail is appropriate, where there are good processes in place for the screening of potential bailees, and where there is good local awareness of and buy in to supervised bail. If there is to be optimal use of supervised bail in Scotland, it needs to be ensured that these three conditions are met throughout the country.
Email: Carole Wilson