Page last updated at 10:01 GMT, Monday, 26 January 2009

Suburban bail hostels a 'success'

Electronic tag
Bail accommodation often houses those who have yet to be found guilty.

A controversial scheme to house bailed and tagged defendants and inmates in residential areas may be expanded, Justice Minister David Hanson has said.

Amid fierce opposition in some areas, a company called ClearSprings runs properties for 400 ex-prisoners and suspects across England and Wales.

Mr Hanson says the scheme is a success because it has reduced prison numbers.

His comments come as talks begin over whether to close one of the firm's London bail hostels due to violence.

A consultation is under way over the hostel in Lewisham in the south of the city, after complaints about violence and anti-social behaviour.

The Metropolitan Police has confirmed it was not "properly consulted" about the centre - which is currently unoccupied and officials are looking for an alternative site.

Mr Hanson made his position on the whole bail hostel scheme clear in a letter leaked by the Conservatives to BBC Radio 5 Live.

In the letter to Paul Goodman, Conservative MP for Wycombe, Mr Hanson wrote: "The service is proving a success. A number of service users have been helped into training and employment.

I believe these successes demonstrate that the scheme is worthwhile
Justice Minister David Hanson

"A number of children have been able to rejoin their mothers in a home environment. Those in the service have been helped to locate more stable accommodation... The service is reducing the pressure on prison places and it will cost the taxpayers much less than prison.

"Whilst I recognise that there will be public concern about housing defendants and offenders in the community I believe these successes demonstrate that the scheme is worthwhile."

Mr Hanson has emphasised the residents are no different to those who have been bailed to return their own homes and "more than half of those held in this accommodation are on bail and are therefore innocent until proven guilty".

Many residents who live near the bail homes - which are unsupervised and without formal planning approval - say they bring the risk of crime far too close to their homes.

Petitions are often started by local residents who fear the bail homes will dump burglars, paedophiles or violent criminals on their doorsteps.


The government says a great deal of misinformation has been spread about the homes, they are never used to house high-risk offenders and that it was simply responding to demand from the judiciary when it began setting up the network in 2007.

Anyone convicted or accused of sexual offences, murder, arson, causing death by dangerous driving, weapons offences, cruelty to children or racially-aggravated crime, cannot be sent to bail hostels.

Private firm ClearSprings now runs 166 homes, with room for 613 people.

They are ordinary two-to-five-bedroom houses in residential areas and, unlike traditional bail hostels, they have no on-site supervision.

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