I recently attended Women In Prison’s excellent round-table on Small Custodial Units for Women. The first key note speaker was Nick Hardwick, Chief Inspector of Prisons, who made some incisive – and sobering – comments that set the tone for the dynamic discussions that took place over the day. One of his most disquieting observations was that, five years after Corston called for a radical change in the way that women are treated across the whole CJS, the argument for a distinct approach is yet to be won. Given the unique risk profile of women and the now well-documented differences in their experiences of the criminal justice system, this seems startling. And so while prisons have become ‘safer’, they are not ‘safe’ places for women.
Current and former service users and the voluntary and community sector (VCS) organisations that work with women in prisons and the community hold a wealth of knowledge and experience of the types of approaches that best support women at risk. For example, the expansion of ‘one stop shops’ or Women’s Community Centres, which provide a holistic set of rehabilitative interventions within a single safe space, have been some of the most promising achievements since 2007. However, there are worrying signs that the economic downturn is impacting heavily on the services for the most vulnerable services users, and disproportionately on women. Do you think that the economic downturn is impacting disproportionately on women accessing your services?
It was within this context and as part of Clinks’ role servicing the Reducing Reoffending Third Sector Advisory Group (RR3), that we have been involved in developing a new paper on Breaking the Cycle of Women’s Offending: A System Redesign. The paper was developed by a Task & Finish Group, which was required to work to a very strict deadline of three months. As well as revisiting the Corston recommendations, we aimed to go beyond a focus on prisons and to consider the plethora of preventative services that could be mobilised to prevent girls and women at risk of entering the CJS.
The diagram (click for larger version) depicts the Group’s vision of a shift away from the current fragmented service provision and sporadic use of women-specific services to a holistic, whole systems approach to addressing the particular needs of girls and women. One stop shops and through-the-gate services are two examples of models that not only provide a safe space for supporting women on their journey to desistance but also offer a single point of access to a much wider set of services in the community.
The Group took a dynamic approach to the task by mapping out the typical routes of girls and women into the CJS and imagining a system redesign whereby the women’s VCS services could be more fully included in the design, commissioning and delivery of services. To view the Group’s recommendations, see the Executive Summary at the front of the paper. We are very keen to gather wider feedback on the recommendations of the paper and to continue the conversation online and at a larger event planned for October 2012.
Are there any recommendations in the paper that you would like to challenge or to endorse? Do you support the need for gender-responsive approaches that cater for the specific needs of girls and women, or do you think good universal provision should be sufficient to meet the needs of women as well as men?
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The RR3 special interest group on Covid-19 will today convene voluntary sector leaders to discuss what is needed to mitigate the impacts of the virus on CJS voluntary organisations and the service users they support. We'll publish the key points from the discussion in a blog.