Numbers, rates and proportions of those remanded in custody have increased significantly in recent decades across a range of jurisdictions. In Australia they have doubled since the early 1980s, such that close to one in four prisoners is currently unconvicted. Taking NSW as a case study and drawing on the recent New South Wales Law Reform Commission Report on Bail (2012), this article will identify the key drivers of this increase in NSW, predominantly a form of legislative hyperactivity involving constant changes to the Bail Act 1978 (NSW), changes which remove or restrict the presumption in favour of bail for a wide range of offences. The article will then examine some of the conceptual, cultural and practice shifts underlying the increase. These include: a shift away from a conception of bail as a procedural issue predominantly concerned with securing the attendance of the accused at trial and the integrity of the trial, to the use of bail for crime prevention purposes; the diminishing force of the presumption of innocence; the framing of a false opposition between an individual interest in liberty and a public interest in safety; a shift from determination of the individual case by reference to its own particular circumstances to determination by its classification within pre-set legislative categories of offence types and previous convictions; a double jeopardy effect arising in relation to people with previous convictions for which they have already been punished; and an unacknowledged preventive detention effect arising from the increased emphasis on risk. Many of these conceptual shifts are apparent in the explosion in bail conditions and the KPI-driven policing of bail conditions and consequent rise in revocations, especially in relation to juveniles.
The paper will conclude with a note on the NSW Government’s response to the NSW LRC Report in the form of a Bail Bill (2013) and brief speculation as to its likely effects.