Women need women who support them
Two days ago (21 November 2021) Advance published its report on the impact of its Women’s Diversion scheme in London. Launched as a pilot two years ago, in September 2019, in partnership with three specialist organisations, the Diversion Service works with women who have committed low-level offences to reduce their likelihood of reoffending. Rather than being charged and sentenced, women from the age of 18 are referred, at the point of arrest, by the Metropolitan Police to Advance and its partners. Women then receive one-to-one support and attend groups and activities in our community Women’s Centres to address the circumstances that led them to commit offences. Women share their experiences of trauma, including domestic abuse, mental ill-health, problematic substance use and homelessness.
The key findings of the report are:
- Diversion services will not reach all the women needing support by limiting eligibility to only those with Conditional Cautions. Only 3% women arrested were offered the Women’s Diversion Service in the two London BCUs, impacted by the low numbers of conditional cautions and the need for systemic change to the practice of offering most women a community-based response and out of court disposals.
- High levels of need were reported despite low level offending. Of the 160 women supported who were arrested for low level offences – 41% being first-time offenders– and eligible for conditional cautions, 62% reported four or more needs of the nine pathways to offending; 67% reported mental health needs and 65% experienced domestic abuse and gender-based violence; 30% reported having all three needs around mental health, domestic abuse and problematic substance use.
- Women require longer support because of higher than anticipated level of need, with 63% of women receiving above the three months support that was anticipated by the model, and 20% receiving between 6 to 12 months of support.
- Women require on average four additional support activities each, such as advocating with social care, housing and mental health practitioners, as well as specialist groups and activities in women centres around employability, parenting and children, and well-being.
- All women reported improvement in all areas of need after receiving support and sustainable impact after exiting the service. Of the women surveyed while receiving support, 89% reported improved mental health and well-being, 100% feeling safer from domestic abuse and 93% reported a reduced likelihood of reoffending due to the support. Furthermore, of the women surveyed over three months after exiting the service, 100% of women stated they were less likely to reoffend, 100% felt the support received had a positive impact on their children and 74% are either in employment or in education.
- Only 7% of the women referred with conditional cautions were re-arrested after engaging with the service for two or more appointments, with 9.8% re-arrested prior to attending any or only one appointment; re-arrest rates were not available nationally. It is noted that the national re-offending rate for women of 23.4%.
The graphic below shows the main areas of need for the women referred to the project.
The report makes seven key recommendations for the roll-out of women’s diversion schemes nationally:
- Commission and implement Women’s Diversion Service programmes nationally and end the postcode lottery, working together with local Women’s Centres and specialist women’s organisations to deliver early intervention, increase OOCDs and improve justice outcomes for women and their children.
- Widen the criteria for access to the Women’s Diversion Service to all women in contact with the criminal justice system at point of arrest regardless of the police action and outcome (such as no further action, released under Investigation or charged) to provide all women the community support they need, reduce the use of custodial sentences and reduce re-arrests and re-offending.
- Commissioners need to provide sufficient funding for specialist keyworkers and groups/ activities to support higher levels of need despite low level offending, as well as hardship funds to tackle emergency needs such as homelessness, food and digital exclusion, improving engagement and longer-term outcomes.
- Improve availability of and access to mental health support, including counselling, and pathways to mental health services in the community, including for those deemed as ‘dual diagnosis’ which often excludes them from support altogether.
- The Home Office, Ministry of Justice and Department of Health and Social Care should develop a joined-up strategy and policies for women in contact with the criminal justice system, including strategic policy and commissioning women’s leads to develop and deliver specific responses and programmes to address the needs of women identified in the Female Offender Strategy (MoJ 2018), VAWG Strategy (Home Office 2021) and Women’s Health Strategy Consultation (DHSC 2021)
- Strategic leadership and commitment are required by Police and Crime Commissioners and by Police Chiefs at both national and local level, prioritising Women’s Diversion Services and gender-specific specialist responses to women in the criminal justice system, as women continue to be marginalised due to the small numbers being arrested in comparison to men, despite the 2007 Corston Report recommendations.
- Development and embedding of holistic, trauma-informed and women-specific responses is required by local-authorities and regional statutory partners, specifically Mental Health community services, Courts and Magistrates, Housing and Social Care teams, that meet the needs of women in contact with the criminal justice system.
Thanks to Oliver Ross for kind permission to use the header image in this post which was previously published on Unsplash.