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23 May 2014

Police, health and local services key to reducing women’s offending

Supporting women at an early stage to help them address the causes of their offending would cut crime, reduce women’s prison numbers and save the taxpayer money, according to a new briefing launched today by the Prison Reform Trust.

Brighter Futures, supported by the Pilgrim Trust, profiles innovative approaches to reducing women’s offending and calls for the development of coordinated services that bring together police, health, women’s services and local authorities to help women turn their lives around.

The majority of women in trouble with the law are petty but persistent offenders and often have histories of domestic violence, abuse, coercion, mental illness and addiction. Many are also mothers.

Because women account for a minority of all those coming into contact with criminal justice agencies, interventions often fail to address the specific circumstances of their offending. Most women serve short prison sentences for non-violent offences at huge public cost. 59% of women entering prison serve custodial sentences of six months or less. Theft and handling offences account for 30% of women’s arrests and 41% of custodial sentences given to women.

Chief Police Officers nationally, together with the College of Policing and the Home Office, have led the development of innovative new approaches to reducing women’s offending through Integrated Offender Management, drawing together expertise from a range of local agencies.

The Hull women’s triage pathfinder project is jointly delivered by local police, youth justice services, drugs treatment services and the Together Women Project women’s centre. The scheme refers women who are assessed as suitable to receive tailored support, with an emphasis on providing resources and encouragement for them to take responsibility for their offending.

The scheme builds on the success of the existing local youth justice triage scheme and early signs are that the women’s scheme is having a positive impact, with fewer women being charged and a very low reoffending rate.

Building on the success of seven pathfinder schemes developed with support from the Home Office and College of Policing, the report recommends that every police force should consider developing a triage scheme specifically for women and every IOM partnership should consider developing women-specific approaches.

Pressures on local budgets and the introduction of payment by results in the justice system present new opportunities to look at how services for women at risk of offending are designed and delivered. Research by new economics foundation (nef) has found that for every pound invested in support-focused alternatives to prison, £14 worth of social value is generated to women and their children, victims and society generally over 10 years.

The report builds on existing public support for alternative approaches to addressing offending by women. An ICM poll showed that 80% of 1,000 adults surveyed strongly agreed that local women’s centres, where women address the root causes of their crime and do compulsory work in the community, should be available. Another ICM poll found that 73% thought that mothers of young children should not be sent to prison for non-violent crime.

Commenting in the Foreword to the report, John Long, Deputy Chief Constable of Avon and Somerset Police and Police National IOM Lead, said:

“Practical, intelligent and innovative approaches to managing the complex needs of women will help ensure that communities are protected, crime is reduced and vulnerable women are not victimised or unnecessarily imprisoned. I commend this briefing and am determined to ensure that the police remain committed to achieving its aims.”

Juliet Lyon, director of the Prison Reform Trust, said:

“Most of the solutions to women’s offending lie outside prison walls in treatment for addictions and mental health problems, protection from domestic violence and coercive relationships, safe housing, debt management, education, skills development and employment. This report shows how effective cooperation between police, health, women’s services and local authorities can help keep women out of trouble.”

Jenny Earle, director of the Prison Reform Trust programme to reduce women’s imprisonment, said:

“In researching this briefing we’ve been both impressed and inspired by a number of innovative partnerships between police, local women’s services and other agencies that are working together to provide constructive options for women who commit minor offences. We need more of these well-timed, cost-effective responses and we hope this briefing will encourage their adoption across the country.”