Talking Bail versus Jail in the Canadian Justice System

Our first entry of 2022 for The Interview Series is with Bail Supervisor Jo.B*

MB: Good morning and thanks for agreeing to the interview. Happy 2022!

Jo.B: My pleasure. Ah yes! Happy New Year to you too!

MB: Right off the bat, although I am not suggesting yours is an odd profession, I have to admit you are the only person I have met in this occupation. How did you choose this career?

Jo.B: Actually, I did not grow up wanting to be a Bail Supervisor.  In fact I hadn’t even heard of the profession.  I was working part-time at a hospital and mentioned to my supervisor that I had completed university with an Honors BA in criminology and sociology and had no idea what to do with my degree.  She said she had a friend who worked in a courthouse and suggested I volunteer with her.  I started the next week and was offered full-time employment within the year. That was 26 years ago!

MB:  An impressive number, especially considering today’s trending turnover rates. So, what exactly do you do as a Bail Supervisor?

Jo.B: I work with adults and youth who are charged with criminal offenses. Mischief, theft, drug-related offenses, right through to sexual assault and murder. If an accused does not have a surety, like a guarantor or sponsor, or the financial means to be released, Bail Program may be an option for them. I interview inmates to determine their suitability for the program, and if granted bail, clients are required to report weekly.  As a Bail Supervisor I ensure that they are well aware of their bail conditions and court dates, and I guide them through the court process.  Many of my clients are quite vulnerable and are dealing with homelessness as well as mental health and addiction issues. I offer common-sense counseling and connect clients with resources and services to support them while they are awaiting their trial.

MB: Are there many women in your line of work?

Jo.B: Social services workers, including Bail Supervisors, are predominantly female.  I recently read that the profession is about 80% women.  I haven’t seen the numbers fluctuate too much over my time with the program.   There are so few males, possibly, because it is a lower status profession and the pay is quite low.  I have never heard of a Bail Supervisor who said they are in it for the money.  That being said, it is very rewarding being an advocate and voice for disadvantaged individuals and both men and women are equally suited to do the job, in my opinion. 

MC: Do you remember your first day on the job?

Jo.B: Definitely! I was raised in a loving, stable middle class family and had never knowingly had any first hand dealings with ‘criminals’ before becoming a Bail Supervisor.  My first day I just sat and was mesmerized listening to client after client describe their struggles with homelessness, addictions, trauma and mental health. Many had absolutely no family support and nothing more than the clothes on their backs.  It was quite overwhelming and a real eye-opener.  It made me appreciate how fortunate I am and made me realize I should never take anything for granted.  ·       

MC: Is there a percentage of fear involved when you enter the correctional facilities or when you are face to face with a detainee?

Jo.B: Because I am on the ‘right’ side of the bars when I enter a correctional facility, I don’t feel anxious or afraid.  I am typically there to assess their suitability for release and they are on their best behaviour because they want to give a good impression so I can accept them into the program. Honestly, the scariest thing about going to a correctional facility is the overwhelming stench of urine and body odor. For the most part I feel extremely safe at work.  The times I am on guard and have felt threatened are when a client has a psychotic episode because they are often completely delusional and out of touch with reality, which makes them unpredictable.  Thankfully this doesn’t happen too often and the majority of my clients are pleasant and cooperative.  Honestly I sometimes feel more at ease and comfortable talking with my clients than anyone else.  They are so unassuming and tell it like it is. 

MC: Is there a particular episode during your career that sticks out in your mind.

Jo.B: I love this job because it is so unpredictable and I never know what situation I will have to deal with.  Just recently a client called and suggested I send the police to his home.  He explained that he had just “pinned” an intruder to the floor of his bedroom using several knives and that the intruder wasn’t moving.  My client said he presumed the guy was dead. After arriving at his home and questioning him, it turned out that he was delusional and had imagined someone was in his home.  He had stabbed knives into his floor, but thankfully there was no victim.   

MC: Well, you have given a whole new meaning to the phrase, never a dull moment! How are you, in your position, perceived by society?

Jo.B: Accused individuals are obviously grateful for the support and services offered by bail programs.  After all, many would remain in custody if they were not approved for supervision.  On the other hand, the accused have to make a concerted effort to comply with all of their bail conditions, otherwise I will have to issue a warrant for their re-arrest, so I guess I am seen as both empathetic supporter and no nonsense disciplinarian by the detainees.

Many of the players within the criminal justice system ie. the judiciary and lawyers, understand and acknowledge the importance of the work that we (bail supervisors and social workers) do. 

My friends and family find my work interesting, yet I have come across some who are of the mindset to just ‘lock them up and throw away the key’, or suggest that they ‘get a job’.  I believe this thinking stems from their false impression that individuals facing charges are all violent and lazy and choose a criminal lifestyle.  The reality is that most of the people I see going through the criminal justice system are poor, come from broken homes, lack education and are struggling with substance abuse and/or mental health issues.  The majority are vulnerable and disadvantaged and need to be given support and services rather than remain in custody.  

MB: At the end of the day, do you feel that you are making a difference?

Jo.B: In Canada our justice system is based on the presumption of innocence.   I try to treat everyone without judgement and with respect.  I am not naive, nor do I believe that I am going to solve everyone’s problems.  All I can do is lend an empathetic ear and encourage and assist clients to access resources and programming. I try to motivate clients to become self-supporting and guide them through the court system as best I can. By helping these individuals get their lives back, I am helping, them, as well as society. It is very rewarding work.

MB: How much freedom or latitude does your job allow you in order to get things done/reach your goal for those involved?

Jo.B: I am fortunate that my job allows me much latitude in working with my clients.  Each client is so different, and even the same client presents himself/herself differently depending on the day.  I have to figure out what approach best suits each client and sometimes have to get creative in finding solutions depending on specific client needs.

MB: How do you see the future within your line of work, morphing or changing, to accommodate the ever morphing changing society we live in?

 Jo.B: As long as there is crime, my work as a Bail Supervisor will be relevant.  I believe that as a society we are beginning to identify and address the challenges of individuals who are facing criminal charges.   This is a step in the right direction, however there is still much work to be done.  We have to reduce the stigma and offer prompt and affordable access to support and services for these often disadvantaged and vulnerable individuals.

MB: Thank you so much for being with us today and thank you for the vital and crucial service you provide.

Jo. B* – for obvious privacy reasons the interviewee’s real name hasn’t been given and was substituted with the above fictitious form

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