Supervised Bail in Scotland: Research on Use and Impact

This report outlines findings on the use and impact of supervised bail in Scotland from a research project which included analysis of operational data, economic analysis, a workshop with bail workers, surveys of the judiciary and Procurators Fiscal, and interviews with people who have been on supervised bail.

7 Impact on bailees

7.1 For the bailees interviewed, four things emerged as leading to a positive impact of supervised bail:

Being out in the community rather than in prison

7.2 As outlined above, it was of central significance to bailees that supervised bail was an alternative to remand. It meant on the one hand that they were not in prison, which would be an unpleasant and in some cases a potentially criminogenic experience, and on the other that they were out in the community, able to maintain family relationships and pursue non-criminal identities as family members, employees, students and so on.

A positive relationship with the supervisor

7.3 Bailees talked about their bail workers being someone to talk to, someone who managed to get the bailee to talk in a way they had not before, and about things they had not felt able to talk to anyone else about. Bailees explained that this was because they felt bail workers were truthful, 'had some skills' at breaking down barriers, were understanding, and interested, and talk was confidential. It was also significant that bail workers were felt to be like 'a normal person' rather than like a justice professional (the most common comparison was to a police officer) - someone who they could 'have a laugh' with as well as open up to.


7.4 As mentioned above, flexibility around timing and frequency of meetings was useful to some bailees, as was flexibility around types of support provided, with bailees variously signposted to different kinds of services based on their needs, such as employability support, addiction services or bereavement counselling.

Positive feedback

7.5 Direct praise, rewards for attendance in the forms of reduced contact, and positive feedback on completion of a supervised bail order all seemed to make a big impression on bailees, giving them a real sense of pride in themselves and their compliance with supervised bail, helping them to build or maintain identities as good citizens, rather than as criminals.

7.6 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.

7.7 All interviewees except one13 talked about a positive change in their behaviour over time. Common themes in describing this change were:

  • A desire to avoid trouble or jail
  • Learning to avoid conflict situations
  • Stopping drinking or taking drugs
  • Growing out of bad behaviour (too old for jail)14
  • Having sustained good behaviour for some time

7.8 Some bailees talked about this behaviour change separately from their supervised bail, while others talked about how the relationship with their supervisor had enabled them to behave better because they:

  • Regularly reminded them to behave
  • Were clear about consequences of bad behaviour
  • Provided support, both practical and psychological
  • Gave them something to do out of the house and off the streets

7.9 Some bailees believed that supervised bail had helped them to change their behaviour long term, while some felt that it only helped while they were on supervised bail, and some felt that their behaviour had not needed improving by supervised bail. One felt that supervised bail could not have impacted their behaviour because their life was too chaotic at that time.

7.10 Bailees also talked about supervised bail being good for family relationships, because they were not in jail so could still spend time with their family (children were mentioned most often here), but also because the support given by bail workers directly improved relationships, or the change in behaviour brought about by supervised bail was good for family as well as the bailee themselves.

7.11 On the other hand, two bailees described breaking up with their girlfriends because of the curfew15 . Another talked about not being able to visit his family because of a curfew, and having to move house because of a bail condition. This chimes with a recent evidence review which concluded that curfews can place stress on family relationships (Armstrong et al 2011). This contrast with bailee's positive accounts of supervised bail's impact on family relationships.

7.12 When asked what was good about supervised bail, bailees talked about it being better than jail and about having someone there for them, who they could talk to honestly and in confidence. Few could think of anything bad about supervised bail, though one said that the meeting rooms could be nicer.

7.13 The one exception was the bailee described above who had not had contact with the justice system before, who did not see it as an alternative to remand, did not relate well to her bail worker because the meetings were scheduled at an inconvenient time and did not feel her behaviour needed changed. This bailee saw supervised bail as simply one aspect of the larger traumatising experience of going through the justice system. Again, this shows the importance of careful targeting at borderline cases, and suggests that careful thought should be put into the use of supervised bail for first time accused.

7.14 The impact of supervised bail on the lives and behaviour of bailees therefore varied across the sample, from being inconvenient and embarrassing, to having a profoundly positive effect on behaviour and life ambitions, with almost all bailees reporting positive effects on their lives and behaviour. This varied according to the relevance of the four factors outlined at the start of this section, as well as depending on the attitude and circumstances of the bailee. It is clear, however, that supervised bail has the potential to support some bailees to make lasting positive change to their lives.


Email: Carole Wilson

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