Birmingham Prison Bail Survey

AuthorAndrew Stanton
Published date01 December 1984
Date01 December 1984
DOIhttp://doi.org/10.1177/026455058403100404
Subject MatterArticles
128
Birmingham
Prison
Bail
Survey
Andrew
Stanton
Probation
Officer,
Birmingham
An
initiative
to
apply
American
experience
of
bail
criteria
to
a
sample
of
English
remand
prisoners
shows
that
the
majority
had
strong
community
ties
which
seemed
insufficiently
recognised
in
the
decision
to
hold
them
in
custody.
The
author
argues
for
urgent
reform
of
Bail
law
and
practice.
Between
October
1982
and
April
1983
we
surveyed
the intake
at~irrningham~~sonto
check
out
intuitions
we had concerningthe
population
on
meRemandWing. Thehypomesis
athebeginning
of our
survey
wasthatthere
is
na consistent practice
among
the
Magistrates’
Courts
within
the
West
Midlands
area
on
the
matter
of
remanding
in
custody,
and
that
for
the
most
part
the
principal
factor considered in granting or denying
bail
is
the
accused’~previous wnvictiQl1s.
The
1977
Bail
Act
was
designed to
ensure
that
there
was
a
presumption
in
favour
of
bail.
Before
this
Act
the
defendant
was
obliged
to
apply
for
bail
whereas
now
bail
is
given
unless
objections
by
the
prosecution
are
sustained.
My
experience
as
a
prison-based
probation
officer
and
in
the
field
suggested
that
the
spirit
off
the
Bail
Act
has
never
been
fully
realised;
that
as
many
are
held
in
custody
when
there
is
little
demonstrable
risk
of breachof bailor
reoffending
00 baias there wcrepriorto the Act.
However such
a position
cannot be
supported by
reference
to
the
statistics,
because
bail
decisions
have
never
been
monitored
in
sufficient
depth.
With this
survey
I
endeavoured
to
assign
some
objective
values
to
present
bail
practice,
with
the
intention
of
raising
the
point
that
fhoroughcxamination
isrequired-of
bail
decisions
if~ereis
any
real chance that
remand
~opulations
in
prisons
are
going to
be
reduced.
American
Experience
Theunderlying
assumption
in
the
operation
of
vaaousNorth American bail
schemes
is thatpeaple
who
have
settled
addresses,
regular employment,
family
ties
and
responsibilities
and
are
well
established
in
any
given
area,
art
unlikely
to
jeopardize
their
position
further
by
failing
to
meet
their bail
commitments.
It
is
also
suggested that
if
I
the
method
of
assessing
such
commitments
is
removed from the
process
ofprosecutionby
having
as
an assesxorankdependent officer ofthe
Court,
then
the
Court
is
more
likely
to
be
impressed
by
the
recommendations.
We
decided
to
use
this
method
of assessment
in
examining
le
circumstances
of remand
p1isoners.
Althosughthere
may
well
be ob~tions
about
using
a~orut American method inaEuropcsncontcxty
the
criteria
used
would
consistently
demonstrates
domestic
stability
either
side
of the
Atlantic.
The
issue
remains
one
of deciding within tlJedef$1dat1ts
circumstances
whether
they
can
be busied
on bail.
’Method
Using
the
Manhattan
Bail
Scheme’s
criteria,
subject
to
minor
amendments
to
suit
English
procedure,
we
aimed
to
survey
everyone
received
into
the
prison’s
remand
wing
over
tbe
six
month
period.
Because
of
administrative
complications
a
complete
survey
was
not
possible,
but
we
managed
to
interview
805
men,
95%
of
the
total
sample
of
843.
The
survey
was
quits
-easy to
conduct,
addressing
issues
that
probation
staffcustomarily
cover
in
reception
interviews
and
in
contracting
relatives,
employers,
landlords
e~.
The
inter-
viewer
had
to
evaluate
the
information
systema-
tically
and
scorethe
responses.
A
total
of six
points
or
more
indicated
a
’pass’
for bail suitability.
It
was
suggested
thatanattempt
should
be
made
to
incorporate
the seriousness of the
present offence
into
the
assessment.
This
p~ove~.i
to
be
rather
difficult.
It
was
hard to
achieve A
consensus
on
assigning
values
to
seriousness
of
offence,
and
queries
were
raised
about
the
appropriateness
of
making
such a
judgement
independently
of
pre-
vious
convictions.
The
matter
was
further come
plicated
by
issues
of
guilt.
Is
it,
for
example,
in
order
to
assign a
value
indicating
the seriousness

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