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Russell Webster

Russell Webster

Criminal Justice & substance misuse expert and author of this blog.

A woman-centred approach to female offending

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Women in Prison detail the impact of the losure of HMP Holloway on all women prisoners, but particularly those in London whose families now have to travel many miles to see them.

Freeing vulnerable women from the revolving door of crime

Just mentioning the issue of women and crime sends many of us to the edge of reason and beyond.

Baroness Corston produced her famous report 11 years ago. Her core recommendation was that we needed systems change, and

A distinct, radically different, visibly-led, strategic, proportionate, holistic, woman-centred, integrated approach.

Despite cross-party support for more than a decade,  a National Service Framework for Female Offenders,  a Ministerial Champion for Women in the Criminal Justice System, an Inter-Ministerial Group on Reducing Re-Offending with a Subgroup on Women Offenders and much more, little has changed.

Indeed, a review by Women In Prison found that only two of the Baroness’ 43 recommendations have been fully implemented. 

The only significant change that I can see over the last three years has been the tragic disinvestment in Women’s Centres.

The latest organisation to try to push things forward is the Centre for Social Justice who published a new report on Wednesday (14 March 2018): A woman-centred approach: Freeing vulnerable women from the revolving door of crime

The report’s introduction shares the opinion of many:

Much of our female prison population can be traced to state failure and social breakdown. Successive governments have failed to firmly grip the issue of female offending. It is the sort of social problem that a government committed to reform can and should tackle.

 The report sets out ten recommendations which is says does not require significant funding nor new legislation, but political will.

The CSJ undertook a survey of Police and Crime Commissioners for the report and found that they were heavily in favour of positive action:

  • 81% PCCs recognise there is clear evidence in favour of trauma-informed and gender-specific programmes in criminal justice;
  • 89% CCs believe they have a pivotal role to play in transforming the approaches to female offenders and reducing recidivism;
  • 74% PCCs believe that the Government’s Female Offender Strategy should allow for PCCs to take greater ownership of the female offender cohort;
  • 74% PCCs believe that they could commission better services for female offenders and those at risk of offending than the centre; and
  • 93% PCCs believe they could help leverage other funding sources and convene partners to help improve outcomes for the female offender cohort.

Recommendations

The CSJ report makes 10 recommendations:

  1. Government should create a new Criminal Justice Transformation Fund for Women (CJTFW), recognising the need to develop a funding pool against which Police and Crime Commissioners can seek capital and revenue funding to support the provision of high quality community-based services for women at risk of offending.
  2. Government should suspend plans for Community Prisons for Women and allocate the £50 million capital expenditure to the CJTFW, to support the development of capacity and infrastructure for women in the community.
  3. Government should redirect a sum equivalent to the Core Allowance of Universal Credit into the CJTFW, creating almost £15 million of additional annual funding. This should be used to support high quality community based-programmes, helping move women offenders and women at risk of offending away from crime and dependency towards employment and independence.
  4. Government should commit to ensure that as the women’s prison population declines and cost-savings are realised, 50 per cent of those savings should be allocated to the Justice Reinvestment component of the CJTFW.
  5. Government should encourage PCCs and the philanthropic sector to leverage other funds at a local level. Government should implement an evaluation of the Fund and conduct a Feasibility Study to consider the potential for the Fund to be outcome-based, helping leverage additional social funding and promoting the more effective use of limited resources.
  6. Police and Crime Commissioners, working with local Women’s Centres and other partners, should develop a package of accommodation, monitoring, supervision and rehabilitation measures that can be attached to Community and Suspended Sentence Orders. This would provide sentencers with a credible and evidenced alternative option for offenders, helping prevent unnecessary imprisonment of female offenders and achieving better outcomes.
  7. Government should ensure that the National Probation Service is placed under a positive obligation to understand the range of services available locally for women offenders and ensure that, in relation to female offenders, reasons why referral to such services would or would not be appropriate should be provided to sentencers.
  8. Government should build on our proposals with pilots for problem-solving courts – making use of judicial monitoring – to focus and drive improved outcomes in relation to drug-addicted female offenders. Government should also welcome applications from PCCs to pilot services for female offenders that could replace the current CRC provision for female offenders.
  9. Government should ensure that every woman with an identified financial need should leave prison with access to a minimum of the Core Allowance of Universal Credit, helping reduce crime and reinforcing the pro-social expectation of resettlement into the community.
  10. Government should create a new Earned Release and Community Payback (ERCP) form of Release on Temporary Licence, harnessing the power of incentives to help foster desistance and encourage positive change. It is a proposal that would not require primary legislation. ERCP would provide a valuable means of releasing prison space within the female estate, with eligible women earning release into the support of an appropriate local service, such as a Women’s Centre.
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