At Clinks we work to highlight the specific and often neglected needs of women offenders, and provide support to the organisations which work with them. We carry out this work in partnership with specialist women's organisations, including the Women's Resource Centre; Women's Breakout and provider organisations such as Women in Prison.
A number of key reports relating to women and girls have been published recently, one of which is a Criminal Justice Joint Inspection report into girls in the Criminal Justice System (CJS). This report found that ‘because of their relatively low number the distinct needs of girls sometimes gets overlooked in a juvenile Criminal Justice System primarily designed to deal with offending by boys.’ This echoes one of the central findings presented by the Justice Select Committee in July 2013, as part of their inquiry entitled ‘Women offenders: after the Corston report’.
Although in some cases the inspections found there are some promising interventions designed for girls, this approach was not consistently applied and often, assessments and interventions did not take gender differences into account. As such, the report recommends that the Chairs of Youth Offending Teams Management Boards should ensure that work takes place to understand and identify needs specific to girls and ensure that appropriate services are commissioned that will meet those needs.
The need for a gender specific approach is crucial for services designed for women and girls and is widely advocated by organisations working to support the needs of this client group. The recent Prison Reform Trust report, ‘Transforming lives: reducing women’s imprisonment’, analyses data collected by Soroptimist International and recommends that gender specific approaches should be the rule, rather than the exception when working with women. The report points to some examples of successful local initiatives that work with women in the CJS, but overall found that provision for this group was patchy and further recommends that effective leadership bridges the disconnect between policy and implementation.
The report also found that services were ‘at the mercy of budget cuts and short-term funding decisions’ and that as women are a minority within the CJS, the only resolution is a coherent funding strategy for gender specific provision. A number of recommendations are further made in the report that take into account the differences across the UK and include: ministerial promotion for a gender informed approach; the monitoring of gender specific provision; the establishment of women’s champions amongst sentencers; and more gender responsive training and guidance for the police.
The findings chime with those of Clinks’ own research ‘Who Cares: Where next for women offender services?’ published in 2014. This provides a snapshot of how such services and their users are being impacted upon by changes in criminal justice policy and the economic landscape. Here too it was found that there is a constant need to advocate and reiterate the case for women specific approaches. The issue of low numbers was also highlighted, with services stating that it would be ‘very easy for them [women] to get lost in the whole Transforming Rehabilitation agenda.’
Those interviewed for ‘Who Cares?’ felt that the Ministry of Justice and NOMS need to strengthen their messaging around why women’s services are essential and effective. Policies are also required that stipulate the need for a unique approach to women and the key to any success will be a strong commitment nationally to the long term funding and sustainability of services. ‘Who Cares?’ makes a number of recommendations for supporting and sustaining a gendered approach.
Clinks will continue to work to support the sector working with female offenders as well as working closely with women-led organisations to ensure the spotlight is kept on women and girls in the CJS.