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Bail support programme helping rehabilitate criminals expands NZ-wide

A bail programme helping criminals get on the right path has been given the green light to expand into more cities around the country. 

Established in 2018, the Bail Support Service programme is designed to give low-risk offenders without any suitable accommodation a place to go. 

It’s getting them out on bail in the community on average a week faster than usual. 

The programme already supports around 270 people around Manukau, Wellington, Christchurch and Kaitāia. 

Now this month, it’s spreading to the wider Auckland region, before expanding into other sites across Northland and the East Coast in the coming nine months.

Department of Corrections deputy national commissioner Leigh Marsh says it should help those low-risk offenders with nowhere else to go get out on bail faster. In turn, the pressure on the justice system will be reduced.

"We know 75 per cent of all defendants that come into prison do get bail," he said.

"It just takes a long time and it's that period of time that really impacts their lives. It's the time when they lose their job, and then they lose their home during that period. 

"There's always a place for custodial remand. But this is for those that are there because they are unable to secure a suitable place."

This programme offers people a roof over their heads, alongside additional support with addiction, health and other social issues.

Marsh says it gives offenders a chance to prove they are committed to doing better and helps reduce re-offending.

"If you spend that bail time getting into work, getting yourself clean, getting your life sorted out, the judge goes, why would I send you to jail at the end of that?" 

He adds a community-based sentence is far more effective in regards to reducing re-offending.  

Prison. (File photo) Source: istock.com

A review of the initial pilot showed that those on the programme were less likely to receive a sentence of imprisonment - in one year there were 377 fewer people serving time behind bars. 

It also saw the average time to bail drop to 21 days compared to 28 for those who did not have the same level of support. 

Albany Legal associate Laurence Herbke says many of the clients he represents often struggle upon release as they look for housing, employment and a chance to reconnect with their families. 

"Convicted or not [giving them bail support in the community] is still going to be helpful to them and society. Often it is in that period that the person has already started taking steps to rehabilitate." 

The programme has funding till 2024, but with huge Covid-related court backlogs, and around 20,000 people estimated to be on bail at any given time, demand may continue to outstrip supply. 

"It's important to have more of these organisations available to take people on when we get clients that don't have anywhere," Herbke said.