Criminology, probation and stuff

Some musings on criminology with a focus on probation

Bail Accommodation and Support Service

with 3 comments

Recently I have had reason to become fairly well acquainted with the Bail Accommodation and Support Service and was surprised to see it in the papers today. BASS is a service which is intended to provide accommodation for people who are facing remand because they have no where to live or to provide an address for people who are eligible for a tag but who do not have a suitable address to be curfewed to. The reduction of the prison population is a stated aim of the service but it is not the only aim. The policy documents also stress the need for good risk assessment- anyone who is more than ‘medium’ risk would not be housed by the scheme. All staff who are involved in the scheme are well aware of this rule. Bailees and people on curfew are housed in small residential units with other bailees. People who may have a negative influence on each other would not be housed together, the property is visited every day by a trained support worker (I know one who used to be a prison officer), with clients getting three sessions a week in the first three weeks to make sure they are coping, behaving and complying with their bail conditions. After the third week they get at least one session a week but this is flexible. It seems, at a glance, like a very good service- there is no doubt that there is a need for it- bail hostels have slowly but completely been designated as approved premises which are only available for high risk offenders leaving homeless low risk ‘petty’ criminals with no choice but remand.

The Times takes a generally negative approach to the whole thing and states that ‘the housing is for suspects who would otherwise be on remand and offenders released from jail with a tag up to 4½ months early.’ Wrong. The housing is for suspects who would otherwise be on bail if it were not for them being homeless. The housing is also for people who are eligible for a tag but who do not have an address- they are exactly the same in terms of risk as someone who is eligible for a tag and does have an address. The Times appears to be saying that homeless people who have committed the same offence as a non-homeless person should be punished more severely. Either that or they have misunderstood the whole scheme.

At least the Times gets one thing right when it says ‘People convicted or suspected of violent or sexual offences cannot be housed under the scheme’ unlike the Daily Express which captions its photo in the article ‘OUTRAGE: Instead of being locked up in prison, paedophiles will be housed in bail hostels’.

The Express also says that this is a plan to covertly put mini prisons on residential streets. I wouldn’t exactly say covert is the right word- information about BASS has been freely available on the Minitry of Justice website for over a year. Whats more, it has been running in the East of England probation area for over a year.

This is yet another example of the media getting mixed up and overly punitive. What is wrong with setting up a system which gives a marginalised group of people (in this case homeless people) the chance to receive a similar level of justice as a non-homeless person- the right to bail and the right to early release on a tag?

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Written by criminologyandstuff

January 7, 2009 at 2:56 pm

3 Responses

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  1. […] are still going on about the (relatively) new BASS scheme which I have already written about here. There were three questions about them in parliament yesterday all of which asked, in various ways, […]

  2. Unfortunately I too became well acquainted with the Bail Accommodation and Support Service when an unsupervised hostel (and hostel it was, despite all the brain-dead rhetoric to the contrary) was set up in the ‘residential unit’, ie decaying buy-to-let, next door to me. When I say the hostel was next door, I mean that it was on the other side of a very thin party wall and that the front door, which was the scene of regular and lively action on the part of both tenants and the local police, was less than six inches from my own.

    When people claim that they know all about the BASS and are speaking from a lofty and sagacious standpoint which the rest of us dim, prejudiced dolts can’t possibly understand, what they generally mean is that they come across offenders/homeless bailees in the course of their professional life – ie in a controlled and artificial situation where the miscreant or accused has every reason to behave well. They have no idea what it is like to have to live next door to a group of chaotic, unsupervised problem people once the probation professionals, support officers and assorted hangers-on have pushed off back to their peaceful homes well away from the problems. I am getting a little tired of hearing that one could end up with people like the BASS clientele next door just by chance. You’d be pretty unlikely to get up to five of them staying in the same house for a day, a week, a month or three months before being replaced by similar individuals. It is most unfair to concentrate risk in this way and for the same unfortunate families to have to absorb the stress over and over again – particularly as they have no say whatsoever in the siting of their hostel. Stressing that the more dangerous offenders are excluded from the scheme (although let’s not forget there was a murder at a hostel in Stockton) ignores the fact that most of the problems which neighbours report are concerned with noise, drugs, rowdy behaviour and house fires. These are not trivial issues when you live next door. Call them old-fashioned and woefully lacking in right-on credentials if you like but most BASS neighbours don’t much enjoy finding needles strewn around the place or having neighbours who regularly kick in the front door and spend the day screaming obscenities at one another. Even the BASS tenants themselves sometimes find the set up scary. One man deliberately broke his bail conditions so that he could go back to court and plead to be put back in prison. As far as he was concerned anything was better than the BASS.

    Over 85% of offenders have problems with drugs and alcohol. Even if they are supposed to be engaging with their problems, many quickly revert back to their old ways once they are sitting around in a BASS property with nothing to do all day. The fact is that many BASS tenants are homeless because they have run out of goodwill. Even their own families don’t want them. The solution is not to impose a kind of cheap ‘dump ‘n run’ on the law-abiding community and then metaphorically stick two fingers aloft when the neighbours complain but to provide offenders/bailees with properly designed and sited accommodation which has round-the-clock supervision. To suggest that a support officer, who will probably be expected to cover several hostels which may be some distance apart, can manage things adequately by popping in for a few minutes from time to time is utter nonsense. Just ask any of the BASS neighbours how much meaningful supervision they think their hostels receive.

    Louise

    October 27, 2010 at 1:45 pm

    • Hi Louise, I’m hoping that you are watching this site because we are having the same problem and it would be great if we could get in touch with you. If you’re interested in getting in touch please leave a message on this site and i can then leave you my contact details.

      thanks

      sherrine

      sherrine

      September 1, 2011 at 10:10 am


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