In this blog Ministry of Justice's Hannah Smallshaw, on behalf of the residential women's centre team, gives an update about the department’s progress with the development and implementation of the residential women’s centres. The residential women’s centre team incorporates colleagues from Ministry of Justice policy teams, Her Majesty's Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS) and the Wales Female Offending Blueprint team. The blog follows consultation events held with the voluntary sector working in criminal justice and outlines how this feedback has helped shape the residential women’s centre plans.
It has been a while since we last updated Clinks members and stakeholders on residential women’s centres (RWCs). Your feedback and interest in RWCs is so important to us and even though we’ve been quiet, we wanted to make sure you are updated on what we have been up to over the last seven months.
Where we started
For those who are not familiar with RWCs, the Female Offender Strategy was published in 2018 and committed to piloting at least five RWCs across England and Wales. The aim of the pilot is to gain a better understanding of how we might improve the outcomes of women who would otherwise enter and re-enter custody for short periods.
RWCs will offer sentencers a community option to divert women at risk of a short custodial sentence. They will provide intensive residential support packages at the point of sentencing, which is an important part of achieving our Strategy aim of ensuring there are fewer women in custody, especially on short sentences.
Stakeholders such as Clinks, women with lived experience of the criminal justice system, partners and providers from a range of backgrounds and specialisms have been incredibly important in shaping the design of the RWC model.
As Lucy Frazer MP noted in her blog post last year, family contact provides a crucial lifeline for those in our care. RWCs will allow women residing at the RWC to be closer to their support networks and local communities. We expect the RWCs' provision will be for women living in the local area, so they are able to be close to their families and RWC staff can support the women to maintain existing tenancies, if they already have stable accommodation. Some of the women will also be able to bring their children to live with them at the centre and, where they can’t, there will be comfortable spaces for family members to visit.
We do understand that children on site can be a trigger for some women who don’t have children with them or have had their children removed from their care. In previous events with Clinks members, this has been highlighted to us and a gender-based, trauma-informed model has been created as a result to ensure all of the women feel they are supported in the RWC.
We want the RWCs to identify and support women to access services that will address their needs, such as substance misuse and mental health issues, and allow them to gain their independence and make a positive change in their lives. We hope to work closely with the women’s sector to ensure funded interventions are delivered to women according to their needs, as well as specialist services local to wherever the RWCs will be based.
We held an event with Clinks members in August 2020 and we were really pleased to see over 100 members attend. The event was really important in shaping the initial design of the RWC and we were grateful to everyone who attended and provided input. With your advice, and feedback from other stakeholders and women with lived experience, we were then able to share what we learned in a December event which outlined the first version of our design specification. The report Clinks published from the event can be found here.
The gender-based, trauma-informed approach to supporting women using the RWC will help us gain a better understanding of the needs of women and we hope to increase their wellbeing, resilience and confidence, as well as reduce reoffending.
We’ve continued to learn from our stakeholders and are in the process of producing a much more detailed version of the design specification. The specification will also include a set of principles that will reflect the RWC’s culture as recommended by Clinks members.
We have also been working with women’s centres and women with lived experience on building guidelines that will inform the physical design of wherever the RWC will be based. The building guidelines will also take a gender-based, trauma-informed approach in line with the design specification and will move away from the feel of an institution.
We are looking forward to being able to share the design specification and building guidelines with you as soon as possible and are thinking through the best way to do this. However, there are some aspects of the documents that we would like to refine before sharing, which will depend in part on where the first centre will be based.
On 5th May 2020, we announced the first RWC would be based in Wales. We took an evidence-based approach to determine where, within Wales, the RWC should be located. Because this is a pilot, we will need to undertake an evaluation so it is important that the RWC operates at or near full capacity and the chosen location should have a sufficient number of eligible women in the area.
According to our data; for adult women, the South Wales Police Force Area has the highest number of sentences to immediate custody of 12 months or less compared to other Police Force Areas in Wales. We therefore started our site search earlier this year and shortlisted five sites in south Wales. After listening to local views and considering the results of technical assessments, we decided not to go ahead with any purchases. This therefore meant none of the sites were deemed to be suitable and we have since gone back to the drawing board.
We’re now planning to engage closely with local stakeholders and communities in South Wales to understand and respond to their concerns and local needs. We have a better understanding of what exactly we want from a site that will best suit the needs of the women, children and staff members using the RWC and are working closely with partners to do this. We hope to identify new potential sites over the summer, but we also want to make sure that we find the right site for the RWC. In the meantime, we are also thinking about how we can apply what we have learned when we start looking for suitable locations in England.
Third sector organisations in Wales have a strong footprint in supporting women in areas such as domestic abuse, sex working, and those at risk of offending or already involved in the criminal justice system. We really want to make these relationships work and embed these services with the RWC, working closely with colleagues in Wales. HMPPS Wales colleagues are leading this in partnership with the Police and Crime Commissioners and Welsh government and will be working with local authorities, third sector partners and elected representatives to engage and involve them in the process of progressing the RWC in Wales.
We hope this gives you an idea of what we have been up to since we last met. Your input is incredibly important to us. We want to ensure you join us on this journey and help shape the design and work with us to deliver services. We look forward to sharing another update with you soon.