It’s time to free vulnerable women from the revolving door of crime

On Wednesday 14 March 2018, the CSJ launched A Woman-Centred Approach: Freeing vulnerable women from the revolving door of crime with Dr Phillip Lee MP (Minister for Female Offenders).

Executive Summary

Much of our female prison population can be traced to state failure and social breakdown. Successive governments have failed to firmly grip the issue of female offending. It is the sort of social problem that a government committed to reform can and should tackle.

As many other report authors — including Baroness Corston — have concluded: there is a way forward. However, it will take a clear commitment from the current Government, future governments, and Parliament if real progress is to be made. The remedies and proposals that we set out do not need huge new funding commitments, nor significant new legislation. They are, rather, a question of political will.

An exclusive survey of Police and Crime Commissioners (PCCs) conducted by the CSJ for this report establishes that there is real appetite for taking a new approach to female offenders among this group of locally elected criminal justice leaders:

  • 81 per cent of PCCs recognise there is clear evidence in favour of trauma-informed and gender-specific programmes in criminal justice;
  • 89 per cent of PCCs believe they have a pivotal role to play in transforming the approaches to female offenders and reducing recidivism;
  • 74 per cent of PCCs believe that the Government’s Female Offender Strategy should allow for PCCs to take greater ownership of the female offender cohort;
  • 74 per cent of PCCs believe that they could commission better services for female offenders and those at risk of offending than the centre; and
  • 93 per cent of PCCs believe they could help leverage other funding sources and convene partners to help improve outcomes for the female offender cohort.

Building on the results of the survey, we call on Government to adopt ten key recommendations to help transform the approach to women offenders, to improve outcomes, reduce crime and improve community safety.

Recommendation 1: Government should create a new Criminal Justice Transformation Fund for Women, recognising the need to develop a funding pool against which Police and Crime Commissioners can seek capital and revenue funding to support the provision of high quality community-based services for women at risk of offending.

Recommendation 2: Government should suspend plans for Community Prisons for Women and allocate the £50 million capital expenditure to the Criminal Justice Transformation Fund, to support the development of capacity and infrastructure for women in the community.

Recommendation 3: Government should redirect a sum equivalent to the Core Allowance of Universal Credit into the Transformation Fund for Women, creating almost £15 million of additional annual funding. This should be used to support high quality community based-programmes, helping move women offenders and women at risk of offending away from crime and dependency towards employment and independence.

Recommendation 4: Government should commit to ensure that as the women’s prison population declines and cost-savings are realised, 50 per cent of those savings should be allocated to the Justice Reinvestment component of the Criminal Justice Transformation Fund for Women.

Recommendation 5: Government should encourage PCCs and the philanthropic sector to leverage other funds at a local level. Government should implement an evaluation of the Fund and conduct a Feasibility Study to consider the potential for the Fund to be outcome-based, helping leverage additional social funding and promoting the more effective use of limited resources.

Recommendation 6: Police and Crime Commissioners, working with local Women’s Centres and other partners, should develop a package of accommodation, monitoring, supervision and rehabilitation measures that can be attached to Community and Suspended Sentence Orders. This would provide sentencers with a credible and evidenced alternative option for offenders, helping prevent unnecessary imprisonment of female offenders and achieving better outcomes.

Recommendation 7: Government should ensure that the National Probation Service is placed under a positive obligation to understand the range of services available locally for women offenders and ensure that, in relation to female offenders, reasons why referral to such services would or would not be appropriate should be provided to sentencers.

Recommendation 8: Government should build on our proposals with pilots for problem-solving courts — making use of judicial monitoring — to focus and drive improved outcomes in relation to drug-addicted female offenders. Government should also welcome applications from PCCs to pilot services for female offenders that could replace the current CRC provision for female offenders.

Recommendation 9: Government should ensure that every woman with an identified financial need should leave prison with access to a minimum of the Core Allowance of Universal Credit, helping reduce crime and reinforcing the pro-social expectation of resettlement into the community.

Recommendation 10: Government should create a new Earned Release and Community Payback (ERCP) form of Release on Temporary Licence, harnessing the power of incentives to help foster desistance and encourage positive change. It is a proposal that would not require primary legislation. ERCP would provide a valuable means of releasing prison space within the female estate, with eligible women earning release into the support of an appropriate local service, such as a Women’s Centre.

Read the full report…

Watch the launch event from Wednesday 14 March 2018 with Dr Phillip Lee MP (Minister for Female Offenders), Rory Geoghegan (Head of Criminal Justice, CSJ), Julia Mulligan (PCC for North Yorkshire) and Rose Mahon (The Nelson Trust).