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Supporting women at risk of breach
Pilot project shows value of supporting women at risk of breaching their community order.

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From Court to Support

Recently I was fortunate enough to be commissioned by Brighton Women’s Centre (BWC) to evaluate a pilot project supporting women at risk of breaching their community sentences. I’ve evaluated many different criminal justice initiatives but this was the first time I’d had the chance to look at a dedicated breach intervention.

The ‘From Court to Support’ (FC2S) initiative was designed specifically to support women at Breach Court or in danger of being breached, with the aim of diverting women away from custodial sentences.

FC2S was part of the Inspire service whose remit is to support women with multiple vulnerabilities at all stages of involvement in the criminal justice system. Inspire includes a prison link (Through-The-Gate) service and access to a Women’s Accommodation Support Service. Inspire is characterised by a number of key principles:

  • A trauma-informed approach
  • Staff and clients working together to support each woman to find the freedom, strength and power to change her life
  • A partnership approach to develop safe, supportive women-only spaces enhancing the number of women who can access support


The project ran for two years from April 2021 and worked with 69 women who had either been breached or were at risk of breach. Most were living with multiple disadvantages and required intensive support. Initially referral rates from probation officers were low as a result of two external factors. Firstly, the probation service was in the middle of being reunified with many staff moving offices and roles and secondly, there remained COVID restrictions which restricted the number of in-person breach courts where FC2S staff could approach women in need of the service in person.

However, my evaluation found that these issues were resolved over the course of the project and stakeholders were very positive about the impact of FC2S. Probation staff acknowledged the need for the service with many women ending up going to prison “through the back door” because of breaching community sentences. Several probation staff also shared that they appreciated the opportunity to discuss complex cases with FC2S caseworkers and found this process valuable both in planning their work with the women on probation and coping with work stresses, no longer having to take sole responsibility for some distressed individuals often at risk of serious self-harm.

Women on the project valued the relationship with one worker who could help them with a range of issues – both chronic and emergency ones – over a sustained period of time.

Critical Success Factors

A number of critical success factors were identified, including:

  • Ownership of the joint project by the probation service. Once the initial disruption caused by reunification had settled down, the championing of the project by the probation area’s lead for women led to much higher levels of referrals.
  • The very positive attitude of court probation staff was praised with both FC2S caseworkers and women using the service welcomed and probation staff being proactive in referring potential clients of FC2S, even when the caseworkers were elsewhere. An excellent working relationship developed which meant that referrals were often made informally, without making demands for paperwork on referrers which, of course, encouraged further referrals.
  • The holistic, trauma-informed approach adopted by the FC2S caseworkers was seen as being vital to the successful engagement of women who mainly had multiple needs. Caseworkers also had the time to deliver a more extensive and intensive casework, approach addressing all of a woman’s needs in partnership with her, co-ordinating the access to and delivery of other specialist services and providing an advocacy service when needed. Essentially, FC2S had more time to provide an individualised service to women attending the project than probation staff.
  • The FC2S model was also a good fit with the probation approach. Caseworkers developed working contracts with the women which set boundaries, encouraged them to keep in touch and were careful to emphasise that they were working alongside the probation service and did not cast probation officers as the “bad cop”. The opportunity to work alongside probation staff at a number of “Breakfast Clubs” was seen as an excellent way of making contact with potential project users.
  • There was a consensus that perhaps the most valuable feature of the project was its open-ended model which meant no limits were placed on how long it took a woman to engage nor how long they could access help and support. This enabled caseworkers to adopt an assertive outreach approach, repeatedly making contact with initially reluctant women to offer help, sometimes over weeks and months which resulted in many women eventually engaging. It was acknowledged that this is a resource-intensive model.

Future plans

BWC has received funding from the Ministry of Justice to establish an ongoing FC2S service with the aim of diverting more women from prison.

Readers interested in seeing the full report can do so here.

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