The fall in unconditional release

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Release date: 21 February, 2011

The number of cases where bail is dispensed with has fallen substantially over the last decade, according to new research released today by the NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research.

The Bureau examined around 800,000 cases dealt with by the NSW Local, District and Supreme Courts between 1999 and 2008. The percentage of defendants released unconditionally (ie. where bail is dispensed with) fell from 60.3 per cent in 1999 to 44.9 per cent in 2008, a fall of 15 percentage points.

Over the same period, the percentage on bail at finalisation rose from 30.2 per cent to 42.1 per cent, a rise of 12 percentage points. By contrast, the percentage of cases where bail was refused rose by only three percentage points.

To test whether the fall in unconditional release was due to a change in the profile of cases coming before the criminal courts, the Bureau examined the likelihood of unconditional release over time while controlling for other factors associated with bail being dispensed with.

Three offences were used in the analysis: assault, property crime and property damage. These offences were chosen because they account for a large proportion of all matters where bail is an issue.

The Bureau found that a fall in the likelihood of unconditional release persisted even after controlling for sex, age, and Indigenous status; number, type and severity of offences; criminal history of the defendant in the five years prior to the index court appearance and whether the defendant had previously served a custodial sentence.

According to the Director of the Bureau, Dr Don Weatherburn, it is difficult to be certain about the reason for the fall in unconditional release. "Parliament has made no amendments to the provisions in the Bail Act dealing with cases where bail can be dispensed with", he said. "So that's certainly not the reason for the fall in unconditional release."

"It may be that the general toughening of bail laws over the last few years has simply made courts much more reluctant to dispense with any requirement for bail", he said.

According to the Bureau, the current findings provide some explanation for the rise over the last decade in the number of cases where bail has been breached. Between 1999 and 2008, the number of recorded cases of bail breach rose by more than 400 per cent.

Some of the increase was undoubtedly due to more aggressive enforcement of bail provisions by the NSW Police. Some of it, however, may be due to the fact that the number of defendants on bail has grown quite rapidly over the last ten years. Even if the proportion breaching bail had not changed, the absolute number of bail breaches would have increased.

Further enquiries: Dr Don Weatherburn 9231-9190, 0419-494-408