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Little progress on working with women in prison and on probation
Joint inspection finds little progress on work with women in prison and on probation.

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The quality of work undertaken with women

Almost two decades on from the Corston Report, which called for a radical change to the way we treat women in the criminal justice system, HM Inspectorate of Probation yesterday (23 May 2024) published a criminal justice joint inspection with HM Inspectorate of Prisons: ‘The quality of work undertaken with women’.

The Corston Report (published in 2007) showed a woman-centred approach was needed, which recognised and responded to the range of complex needs that drive women’s offending. However, this new joint inspection shows, that disappointingly, there is still more to be done to support women on probation and pre-release, and makes a set of recommendations that, if followed, should make a material difference to the quality of services provided for women.

Chief Inspector of Probation, Martin Jones, said: 

17 years on from the Corston report, which criticised the treatment of women in the CJS, our joint inspection with HMI Prisons has found that progress has been far too slow. Too often, services for women fall far short of the gender-informed approaches that were envisioned, meaning safe spaces where women can be offered support and rehabilitation are not available to those who need them.”

The report

The report’s findings were based on visits by prison inspectors to four closed women’s prisons (two larger prisons serving the courts, and two training prisons) and work by probation inspectors in six Probation Delivery Units and six approved premises.

he inspection found that, in prisons, there were too many barriers to good resettlement support, the provision of services was disjointed and too complicated, and support to address practical needs, such as access to bank accounts or national insurance numbers has deteriorated rather than improved.

In particular, suitable accommodation was often not found until very close to women’s release dates, creating uncertainty and preventing other necessary services, such as mental health treatment or medication, from being arranged reliably. There are also not enough staff in prison teams, leading to delays in addressing women’s needs, and reducing the chance of any meaningful support being provided during their sentence.

Inspectors also found little evidence that progress is being made in addressing the reasons why women offend and, while evidence-based interventions designed to address women’s needs are available, few women are given the opportunity to benefit from them.

The report shows some strong examples of best practice – offering hope that positive changes can be made when the Probation Service works closely with local authorities and partners to develop a whole-system approach – however unfortunately, these are rare, and the quality of supervision and support varies significantly across England and Wales.

Less than half of cases up to standard

Probation inspectors looked at the cases of 60 women supervised by community probation officers and of 30 women resident in probation hostels (approved premises). The headline findings (in the continued context of an under-staffed and under-resourced probation service) were:

  • 47 per cent of assessments provided a gender-informed picture of the risks and needs of the woman.
  • 37 per cent of planning sufficiently addressed the risks and needs of the woman.
  • 42 per cent of sentence delivery was gender-informed and effectively supported the needs of women and addressed their offending behaviour.
  • 42 per cent of reviewing practices demonstrated a gender-informed approach to considering the needs of the woman and addressed their offending behaviour.

Recommendations

The report makes a series of 14 recommendations some of which reveal just how dysfunctional our criminal justice system currently is. The first recommendation simply recommends that HMPPS ensures “that all staff involved in women’s resettlement and sentence delivery have access to all relevant case management and assessment systems, including nDelius, NOMIS and OASys.” The fact that in 2024, there is no consistent information exchange between the prison and probation services might not be surprising to practitioners but is symptomatic of the state we are in.

I have not reproduced all the recommendations here but the current quality of resettlement work is laid bare in these six recommendations, asking HMPPS to:

  • simplify the CRS provision in prisons to ensure all staff and senior leaders have clarity on roles and responsibilities, enabling all women in prison (including recalled women and those being released at the end of their sentence) to access the good-quality face-to-face help that they need for successful resettlement
  • provide prison leaders with data on the outcomes achieved by CRS providers. Prison leaders should be actively involved in holding CRS providers to account when they do not fulfil their contractual obligations
  • give women in prison access to regular good-quality keywork that supports resettlement
  • ensure data is available to track the accommodation status of all women released from a particular prison at 12 weeks after release, so that outcomes for each establishment can be monitored and improvements made where needed
  • ensure that, on the day of release from prison, the number of  appointments women are expected to attend are realistic and they have access to sufficient practical help, including:

a basic mobile phone if they do not have one
for women who are unlikely to cope on the day of release, someone to collect them at the gate and help them to attend appointments
a safe, supportive space on prison premises, run by dedicated staff, where women who have been released can get help, phone taxis, arrange to be collected by family members or check train times.

  • ensure that women’s resettlement needs in prison are properly assessed in a timely way, and that any barriers, such as obtaining bank accounts or national insurance numbers, are overcome ahead of release.

Helpfully, the probation inspectorate has also published an effective practice guide on Working with Women which showcases examples of effective practice and is designed to help commissioners and providers improve their work with women.

 

Thanks to Andy Aitchison for kind permission to use the header image in this post. You can see Andy’s work here

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