A whole system approach
Over the weekend (22 January 2021), the MoJ announced that 38 women’s organisations will receive almost £2 million in government funding to support their work steering women away from crime. The press release also says that, although women who commit the most serious crimes will always be sent to prison, custody should always be a last resort. The MoJ says that the number of women in custody has fallen by 10% since 2010 and government investment in community services should see this trend continue in the long-term. The press release does, however, acknowledge that the recruitment of an extra 20,000 police officers is expected to cause a temporary increase in in the female prison population.
However, the MoJ also announced that up to 500 new places will be built in existing prisons to increase availability of single cells and improve conditions. These will include in-cell showers and will allow more women to be held in open conditions, providing greater opportunities for employment and education while completing their sentence. Some of the new places will also allow women to have overnight visits with their children to prepare for life back home. If, as expected, the female prison population falls longer-term, these modern facilities will allow the Prison Service to close old accommodation.
On the same day, the Government published a “Concordat of Women in or at risk of contact with the Criminal Justice System“. The Concordat, which was promised in the Female Offender Strategy, published in June 2018, sets out how Government and other partners should work together at national and local levels to identify and respond to the needs of women.
I reproduce the formal commitment of the Concordat in full below.
"We commit to work together to improve outcomes for women who have already encountered the criminal justice system or are at risk of doing so. These women, often with multiple and complex needs specific to their sex, include some of the most vulnerable in our society. We will work together, both nationally and locally, to address the needs of these women, preventing crises from happening or dealing with them effectively if they have happened already. We will give our joint support in effective early intervention and prevention of crime, allowing women to turn their lives around for the benefit of their victims, their families, wider society, and for the women themselves.
We will strive to make sure that all relevant public services and wider delivery partners, including the voluntary sector, work together to support women. We will do the things in our power – according to each organisation’s appropriate remit and scope – to promote the delivery of the strategic priorities of the Female Offender Strategy, which should result in:
- fewer women coming into the criminal justice system and reoffending;
- fewer women in custody (especially on short-term sentences) and a greater proportion of women managed in the community successfully; and
- better conditions for those who are in custody.
The Government also pledges to produce a report in one year’s time to report on progress.
The Concordat is signed by a wide range of government departments and public bodies:
- Ministry of Justice
- Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service
- Her Majesty’s Prison Service
- National Probation Service
- Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service
- Cabinet Office
- Department for Education
- Department for Work and Pensions (DWP)
- Department of Health and Social Care
- National Health Service England & Improvement
- Public Health England
- HM Treasury
- Home Office
- Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government
The Concordat espouses a number of key principles.
Championing local achievement
The Concordat acknowledges that services must be tailored to local needs and services and says it will promote work by local agencies, including the voluntary sector, and will encourage them to try new and innovative interventions to deliver the outcomes specified in the agreement.
Gender- and trauma-informed responses
The Concordat recognises that any response to addressing the needs of women will only be truly effective if it is both trauma- and gender-informed and -responsive. It says that signatories to the Concordat will identify the need for gender- and trauma- informed and responsive training in frontline workforces and seek to deliver such training, if appropriate.
The Concordat also commits to national and local data collection with the establishment of a local area data tool. It also says it will encourage local investment to accompany the national investment highlighted at the start of this blog post.
We shall wait with interest for the first monitoring report next January to see what the impact on women in contact with the CJS has been.
Thanks to Andy Aitchison for kind permission to use the header image in this post. You can see Andy’s work here.