A constructive alternative to incarceration at the disposal of the most vulnerable
// Interview: David Scott
Director of the Toronto Bail Programme, Ontario, Canada
JT: What is the Toronto Bail Programme and what are its main functions?
DS: The Toronto Bail Programme (TBP) is a non-profit charitable agency whose operation dates from 1979. It provides pre-trial information and bail supervision services to the courts and accused persons, in order to minimise inappropriate pretrial detention.
Historically, many accused persons were remanded due to a lack of appropriate and available sureties, as well as the availability of accurate information concerning residence, employment, mental health, addiction issues, etc. The availability of such information would certainly facilitate and expedite the bail hearing; hence, the main functions are to interview accused persons without a known appropriate surety, verify the information gathered, provide this information to the court and supervise accused persons released to Bail Programme supervision until the charges are resolved.
This professional service is offered to accused persons who seem likely to be supervisable in the community. In this way, accused persons receive constructive, professional help at the earliest point in the justice process, often contributing to rehabilitation. If the accused does not comply with the imposed conditions, the TBP’s final function is to enforce.
JT: What are the characteristics of the Toronto Bail Programme’s workforce?
DS: The Programme’s employees are required to have a post-secondary degree or diploma in the areas of Social Services, Social Work, Psychology, Sociology or a related field. The educational background of current employees ranges from Social Services diplomas to bachelor or master’s degrees in Social Work and Criminology.
Within the TBP, there are many specialised positions: Designated Court Workers conduct cell interviews, complete all court work and verification and submit decisions to the court; Enhanced Community Coordinators accompany, case manage and supervise vulnerable accused persons in the community to ensure attendance at court dates and community appointments; Mental Health Coordinators case manage and supervise, within the courts, clients who suffer from major mental illness; Bail Supervisors provide supervision and case management at the various courts for clients who do not suffer from major mental illness; Indigenous Specific Supervisors maintain a caseload of indigenous clients.
With respect to the management hierarchy: there are two Programme Managers and a Programme Director (Human Resources) who report directly to me. I also oversee the Immigration Division, which provides supervision to individuals who would otherwise be detained on an Immigration Hold.
JT: Could you please detail the process of the intervention of the Toronto Bail Programme both relative to the courts and to the clients?
DS: We only intervene if the accused person is held in custody upon arrest and brought to a Provincial Courthouse for a Bail Hearing. We process the referral at the courthouse when the defence or duty counsel is unable to secure a suitable surety for a particular accused individual. The TBP has an office in each of the eight provincial courthouses in the greater Toronto area. The Superior Court is also served by the TBP to process bail reviews for those individuals who are unable to meet a previously set surety or wish to appeal a detention order. The TBP will process referrals for all youth aged sixteen and seventeen as well as all accused adults aged eighteen and over. Charges supervised range from theft all the way up to murder, when the circumstances around the murder charge are extraordinary.
The Programme provides an alternative to incarceration (…) In turn, the remand population is inevitably decreased, saving millions of dollars.
JT: What is the Programme’s funding model, and to what extent does it meet the precepts of democratic justice?
DS: A supposed democratic justice system is based on certain maxims, including the presumption of innocence and the fair and equal treatment of all accused persons regardless of their socio-economic status. Through a 100% funding provided by the Provincial Government of Ontario, specifically the Agency and Tribunal Relations Branch, Policy Division, of the Ministry of the Attorney General, the Bail Verification and Supervision Programme (BVSP) helps to ensure that individuals who are considered releasable are not unnecessarily detained due to their lack of financial resources and/or lack of community support. Of the cases which concluded during fiscal 2017-2018: 44.4% had all of the charges withdrawn or stayed; 1.9% were found not guilty on all charges; 35.2% were guilty of one or more charges but not all charges; 9.9% of cases were diverted from the system; while 5.6% were found guilty of all charges.
JT: To what extent does the TBP relate to other entities and organisations throughout the process it undertakes along with clients?
DS: The Programme provides ad hoc counselling to our clients, however, where ordered by the court, or where a need is identified, and more expertise is required, we refer clients to our many partner agencies within the community. Given our length of service in the community and our reputation, we have developed an extensive network. As a result, clients become far more stabilised as they adequately address substance abuse, mental health, housing, anger management and employment issues. For example, a client with severe addiction issues might be referred by the TBP case manager to an inpatient treatment facility. Contact is maintained with staff at that facility to monitor the client’s progress and compliance. A client with major mental illness and a history of noncompliance with medication may be referred to a psychiatrist; the psychiatrist and case manager may arrange for the client to be given monthly injections. In all cases, consent forms are signed by the client to allow the sharing of information between partner agencies.
JT: What is the profile of the TBP’s clients and how are their specificities dealt with?
DS: Our clients are among the most vulnerable members of society. They are often homeless or under-housed with issues such as trauma, addictions, mental illness and/or cognitive and developmental impairment. They often come from very dysfunctional families.
Although most clients come from extremely compromised psychological-socio-economic backgrounds, their success is not limited by their issues. By addressing their needs through regular contact, proper case management and various treatments, the risk of non-compliance with court orders is greatly reduced.
We work in collaboration with accused persons and with other community agencies to fashion supervision plans. A detailed plan of supervision between the assigned case manager and the client is devised at the time of the initial intake session. In many cases, staff collaborate with partner agencies that provide more intensive treatment and counselling services. By working together to form a circle of care this increases the likelihood of success. We consider and approach our jobs as an opportunity to assist people in making positive changes in their lives.
JT: What are the main benefits and outcomes that the Toronto Bail Programme brings to the justice system, to clients and to society?
DS: The Programme provides the justice system with an alternative to incarceration for those accused persons who are deemed releasable with supervision. In turn, the remand population is inevitably decreased, saving millions of dollars. The cost of BVSP supervision in Ontario is about $7.00 per day; compared to a detention cost of $235.00 per day. Using quick back-of-the-envelope math: there are approximately fourteen hundred clients that report to the Toronto Bail Programme on any given day. At a cost avoidance saving of $228 per day/client, it saves taxpayers over $300,000.00 per day.
In addition, through verified information provided to the court, the bail process is facilitated and expedited. Moreover, by stabilising the most vulnerable members of society, the entire population benefits as the likelihood of those people reoffending is decreased. Regular contact and regular reminders of court dates ensure a high court appearance rate. In fiscal 2017-2018, the appearance rate was 97.8%.
JT: What technologies are used to do the job?
DS: Our staff have access to electronic dispositions, so they can easily track and confirm all client court dates. These court dates are reviewed with the client at every contact. In addition, bail orders are received electronically from Court Administration, so staff are more able to track all individuals released to our supervision and are able to provide copies of Bail Orders to clients who often lose them. Through additional funding provided by our funder, a significant upgrade to the Programme’s database now makes it possible to easily extract extensive information on current and past clients. However, the use of technology with respect to client communication is limited as our clients are among the poorest members of society and, usually, do not have access to the latest technology in the form of computers or cell phones. In addition, our clients generally do not have the mental capacity to engage in electronic/automated processes. The most successful communication outcomes with clients tend to be reached with basic approaches such as repetitive verbal reminders and handwritten instructions.
JT: In your view, what conditions would have to be met so that other jurisdictions could implement a Programme like the Toronto Bail Programme?
DS: First and foremost, there needs to be a supportive partner within government, who provides proper funding for the Programme to exist and be successful. This funding could easily be found in the cost savings of inappropriate and unnecessary detention. As mentioned earlier, the cost of BVSP supervision in Ontario, per day, is over thirty times lower than the cost of detention. Furthermore, adequately educated and trained staff with adequate office space to meet with clients are essential for proper functioning. In addition, staff must have access to court records and accused persons prior to bail hearings. In addition, a successful Programme must have the support of the police if enforcement action is necessary. Finally, there must be other community agencies that can collaborate to help individuals with issues such as mental health and addictions.
David Scott graduated from the University of Toronto with a Master of Arts Degree in Criminology, specialising in Private Sector Involvement in Community Corrections. He began his career with the Toronto Bail Program in 1989, as the Program’s Jail Liaison Worker at the Metro West Detention Centre. In 1996, he created the Immigration Division of the Toronto Bail Program. He was Programme Manager of that division until late 2004 when he was promoted to the position of Executive Director of the agency.