This is a guest blog from Jessica Southgate, who has recently joined Clinks' Board. Jessica has worked in the voluntary sector for over ten years, with expertise in gender-specific and criminal justice services. She highlights the work of Women's Breakout and its members, and the challenges for women's services in the criminal justice system.
As part of the recent announcement that Women’s Breakout will merge into Clinks, I am delighted to have been appointed to the Board of Clinks, having previously sat on the Board of Women’s Breakout since 2014.
Since it was founded six years ago, Women’s Breakout, led by Jackie Russell, has championed the unique voice and expertise of women’s community organisations working in the criminal justice system, and built a strong national network of members across England and Wales.
The vision of Women’s Breakout has always been to see the holistic, gender-specific approaches that our members provide for women with vulnerabilities and complex needs embedded into mainstream provision. We want to see a local landscape that meets the needs of women who are in, or at risk of entering, the criminal justice system; improving their health, wellbeing and opportunities, whilst reducing the numbers of family members affected by women’s imprisonment.
Taking the steps to merge into Clinks provides the best possible future for this work to continue, and for us as a sector to collectively advocate for women’s services, particularly ahead of the forthcoming strategy for women anticipated from the Ministry of Justice.
At our final AGM in June, I was reminded once again of the exceptional work the sector does in transforming lives, often in really meaningful partnership with the women they work with. We heard inspiring examples of organisations working collaboratively, sharing their best practice and learning with one another, and providing real opportunities for women to be involved in shaping and designing their services.
Since I joined the women’s voluntary sector over ten years ago, times have not been easy. Despite the positive momentum following the publication of the Corston report, and the exceptional work of the sector in achieving real and lasting impact in the lives of women at risk, there remain huge challenges to overcome.
We need a significant reduction in the women’s prison population and further investment in community alternatives. And we need a central sustained focus on holistically improving the lives of women facing complex challenges to ultimately achieve this.
The ethos of Women’s Breakout was always to stay close to the realities faced by our members; to understand their ambitions for the women they work with, as well as the daily challenges they face. As a sector we must continue to work together to build this picture, and make the case for the change we need to see both locally and nationally.
Clinks is extremely well positioned to take forward the advocacy and policy-influencing so critical to ensuring the voice of the women’s sector is kept high on the strategic agenda. By welcoming the Women’s Breakout network within the organisation, Clinks has demonstrated this commitment to acting as the strongest possible advocate for women’s services.
I invite any Women’s Breakout member to get in touch to communicate with the Clinks Board through me, and welcome the opportunity to engage with you all on the next stage of this journey. It will be critical that the voices of the women’s network within Clinks are heard, and can help maintain the momentum and focus that Women’s Breakout afforded the sector.
I look forward to working with the rest of the Clinks Board to support the future of the women’s network, and the health and success of all voluntary organisations working with offenders and their families.