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Russell Webster

Russell Webster

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

How are Police Commissioners tackling women’s offending?

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The multiple needs faced by women in contact with the criminal justice system mean that it is the responsibility of a range of agencies to work together for a more effective approach. PCCs can provide the leadership to ensure a co-ordinated approach to women's offending.

PCC spotlight: Women’s offending

The Revolving Doors Agency has just (22 October 2015) published the third in its series of “spotlight” briefings (produced with the Transition to Adulthood Alliance) highlighting  promising work instigated by Police and Crime Commissioners (PCCs) which is ripe for replication elsewhere.

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The profile of women offenders

Women’s offending has a distinct profile compared with men.

Women make up just 5% of the prison population, with 81% of them committed for non-violent offences. It has long been recognised that women benefit from a distinct approach if reoffending rates are to be reduced – particularly given the multiple and complex needs faced by many women involved in offending:

  • 71% of female prisoners suffer two or more mental disorders
  • 70% of women entering prison require clinical detoxification
  • 53% of women in prison experienced emotional, physical, or sexual abuse as a child
  • More than half of women in prison report having suffered domestic violence
  • Six out of ten women in prison have at least one dependent child

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Examples of best practice

Nine examples of best practice instigated by PCCs are featured in this spotlight report including:

  • Northumbria – where the PCC has prioritised prevention and earlier intervention, piloting schemes such as the Voluntary Intervention Project to encourage early diversion into women-specific support (where appropriate), and targeting improved support for vulnerable women including young adults (18-24) and women who are victims of domestic and sexual abuse.   
  • Cumbria – where the PCC has supported Women’s Community Matters programme to provide a gender-specific programme of support for women in contact with the criminal justice system, whether as victims, offenders, or both.   
  • Greater Manchester – Where the PCC has worked with partners to develop a ‘whole system’ approach for women offenders as part of wider public service reform agenda in the region. Key features of the model include police triage and diversion; delivery of women-specific community.

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Conclusions

The report argues that local leadership is key to improving responses for women in contact with the criminal justice system, and recommends that PCCs advocate for a women-specific approach in their area, and champion improving responses as a key partnership priority locally. A number of key themes are highlighted:

  • Supporting women’s centres – seen as key to a more effective approach, providing opportunities to divert women into support at an early stage and boosting the community options available to sentencers.
  • Diversion and earlier intervention – promoting earlier intervention is also a common theme, with a ‘police triage’ approach for women being adopted in a number of areas.
  • Developing specific interventions for young adult women (18-24)
  • Women involved in prostitution are identified as a high risk group.
  • Women’s victims services – The majority of women involved in offending are also victims of crime, including high levels of domestic abuse. Some PCCs have acknowledged this overlap and are supporting targeted work for some of the most excluded women through their victims commissioning role. This also highlights the importance of trauma informed services for women in contact with the criminal justice system, whether as victims or offenders.
  • More effective use of community sentences – For women who are charged, there is scope to further expand the use of community disposals, including requirements delivered by local women’s centres. In a number of areas, the principles of integrated offender management approaches have been tailored to work more effectively in coordinating support for women offenders in the community, which could also reduce the number of primary carers of children being taken into custody.
  • A strategic partnership approach – The multiple needs faced by women in contact with the criminal justice system mean that it is the responsibility of a range of agencies to work together for a more effective approach. PCCs can provide the leadership to ensure  a co-ordinated approach to women’s offending.

 

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