Justice CommitteeWritten evidence from Together Women Project (Yorkshire & Humberside)

1. About Together Women Project (TWP)

1.1 The Together Women Project (TWP) supports women offenders and women at risk of offending across Yorkshire and Humberside. Our core aims are to reduce reoffending, divert women from custody, prevent family breakdown and enable women to turn their lives around. We provide gender-specific holistic support from women’s centres in Leeds, Bradford, Sheffield and Hull and from outreach posts in Rotherham, Barnsley and New Hall prison.

1.2 Women supported by TWP suffer from multiple complex needs (including poor mental health, drug & alcohol misuse, poverty and histories of abuse) which are linked with their offending behaviour. Helping women to tackle these issues from our “one-stop-shop” women’s centres reduces the risks associated with reoffending and enables them to make positive changes. In-depth needs assessment and individual support plans are used by Key Workers working alongside women to achieve self-determined goals. A wide range of services and support are available “under one roof” in a safe, accessible environment.

1.3 TWP works closely with probation, the courts, the police and women’s prisons, and with other voluntary organisations. Our experience greatly informs the submission below.

2. Summary

2.1 There is widespread recognition of the need to reduce the use of custody and deploy more effective community provision that tackles the root causes of women’s offending but the key structures recommended by Corston to achieve this are not in place and there is a lack of leadership.

2.2 Despite progress and the beginnings of a strategic approach under the last government, there is little evidence of a national strategy to reduce reoffending by women and there is no published information by which progress can be measured.

2.3 The current network of women’s community services, established with central funding from the Ministry of Justice and the Corston Independent Funders Coalition, has demonstrated how gender- specific community provision can effectively address the complex, multiple needs of vulnerable women. However, this existing voluntary sector provision is limited to some parts of the country and services are not uniformly available.

2.4 Existing gender specific services are threatened by changes in commissioning arrangements and these changes are likely to reduce the volume, range and quality of specialist community provision for women.

2.5 There is a need to ensure that commissioning and procurement methods include co-production and collaborative design of services so that the expertise of small, specialist organisations is included in the process. This enables the views of service- users to be incorporated into commissioning.

2.6 If the diverse needs of different groups of women are to be effectively understood and addressed it is essential that NOMS Equality Strategy is informed by the experience and expertise of gender specific community projects like TWP.

3. The nature and effectiveness of the Ministry of Justice’s strategy for women offenders and those at risk of offending

3.1 There is general agreement that the majority of women offenders pose little risk to the public and that imprisonment is frequently an unnecessary and ineffective response. There is recognition that gender-specific community provision offers a better route for diverting vulnerable women from crime and tackling the root causes of offending. Since the publication of the 2007 Corston Report, urging an integrated, cross-government approach to meeting the multiple, complex needs of women offenders, there has been some progress in developing a strategic approach. There is broader recognition of the specific, gender-related needs of women and there are more local services that offer appropriate provision. However, there is currently no National Strategy Group, no Inter-Ministerial Group and no National Commission for Women Offenders, as recommended by Corston.

3.2 We are aware that the Ministry of Justice aims to promote non-custodial measures for women offenders in appropriate cases and TWP welcomes this. However, despite efforts by successive governments, the numbers of women being sent to prison have not significantly reduced and MoJ data analysed by Professor Carol Hedderman1 shows that the numbers of women serving short prison sentences have actually increased. This is an indictment of a strategy based on reducing the use of custody for less serious offences and providing effective community alternatives for women.

3.3 The work and investment of The Corston Independent Funders’ Coalition (CIFC)—a collaborative network of grant-making trusts and foundations established in 2008 to press for full implementation of Corston’s recommendations—was highly significant in persuading the then Government to implement a strategic approach. The programme of “funder advocacy” as well as a significant programme of grant funding helped drive change, not least of which was continued funding for the network of community women’s projects.

3.4 Progress on the New Labour Government strategy for reducing reoffending by women was reported to Parliament at six-monthly intervals and from this it was easy to identify both achievements and barriers to success. This transparency no longer exists and TWP believes that under the current Government the impetus for change has been lost. There is currently no information published showing exactly what the strategic priorities are for women offenders and those at risk of offending. Current government policy for reducing reoffending prioritises improved treatment options for offenders with mental health and substance misuse needs, and has a strong focus on rehabilitation, particularly for repeat offenders. However, there is little evidence that women’s needs are being fully addressed through the current programme of Ministry of Justice pilot projects testing how these policy objectives can be met.

3.5 We are particularly concerned that central commissioning of women’s community projects has ended, despite emerging evidence of their success in reducing the risk factors associated with reoffending by women. It remains unclear as to exactly how arrangements for locally commissioned services will develop. Probation Trusts are expected to take account of women’s gender specific needs but there is no clear information about commissioning for provision beyond March 2013. TWP would like to see opportunities for co-production and a collaborative approach to service design, allowing service user views to be fully incorporated into service specifications but there is little sign of this as yet.

4. The nature and effectiveness of Ministry of Justice governance structures for women’s offending

TWP is concerned that there is a lack of high-level strategic management of the agenda. As mentioned above, recommendations made by Corston—Inter-Ministerial Group, Commissioning Group and cross-departmental team—have not been met. There appears to be a lack of political will and an absence of leadership on the issues.

5. The extent to which work to address the multiple and complex needs of women offenders is integrated across Government

5.1 Corston recommended the immediate establishment of a Commission for women who offend or are at risk of offending, led at Director level with a remit of care and support. The aim was for this to be a cross-departmental structure located initially within the Home Office but moving to Department for Communities and Local Government. This was never set up although, under the last government, a cross-departmental staff team, The Criminal Justice Women’s Strategy Team (CJWST) located within the MoJ was created with civil servants. Corston recommended that staff from relevant NGOs and voluntary agencies should also participate but this did not happen. The purpose of this team was to drive forward the Women’s Offending Reduction Programme but it has been disbanded.

5.2 The disbandment of the team aimed at developing a cross-departmental approach, has resulted in a loss of any real focus on women offenders and those deemed “at risk”. TWP is not aware of any proactive work underway on a joined-up cross-departmental strategy and this presents a barrier to implementing much of the Corston agenda. This absence of cross-departmental collaboration ensures that the Ministry of Justice will continue to struggle to meet the multiple and complex needs of women offenders. There is clearly a lack of political will on the part of the current government to bring about integrated approaches.

5.3 TWP would like to see the work of the CJS Women’s Strategy Team re-instated as this was one of the ways in which a national strategic approach was developed and articulated. It provided a route through which integrated needs assessment and coordinated service provision for vulnerable women could be achieved.

6. The extent to which the gender equality duty has become a lever for mainstream service commissioners—outside of the criminal justice system—to provide services which tackle the underlying causes of female offending

There is very little evidence that mainstream service commissioners are motivated through the need to comply with the gender equality duty in relation to the provision of services that tackle the underlying causes of female offending. Where there is advocacy and Key Worker support (as is the case with TWP and other similar organisations) vulnerable women are supported to access provision in areas such as mental health treatment, substance misuse treatment, counselling, parenting support, housing, education, training and employment. Without the brokering role of specialist women’s community projects, it is unlikely that access to appropriate, gender-specific provision would be achieved.

7. The volume, range, quality, and sustainability of community provision for female offenders, including approved premises

7.1 Despite the progress made over recent years in developing a network of appropriate community services for women, TWP is concerned about the lack of coherent provision nationally. According to Women’s Breakout2 there are 47 voluntary and community sector organisations working with women offenders and women at risk of involvement in the criminal justice system in gender sensitive environments in England and Wales. This does not afford sentencers uniform access to suitable community provision. Unless a court happens to benefit from a local service, such as those provided by TWP, there is no opportunity for a gender-specific package of measures to be imposed as part of a Community Order or as an Alternative to Custody. Much more needs to be done to increase the volume and range of services.

7.2 Existing provision is precarious and changes in commissioning arrangements will impact heavily on sustainability. Much of the work carried out by specialist, gender-specific community providers is currently financed through central funding streams. The sustainability of these existing services is far from guaranteed and there is an urgent need to clarify exactly how community provision for female offenders will be locally commissioned.

7.3 The most recent version (published in July 2012) of NOMS Commissioning Intentions Discussion Document 2012‐133 indicates that “evidenced based” commissioning will be used to provide services. It makes clear that only quantitative studies, obtained via one of several prescribed methodologies, may be considered sound evidence. This is likely to prove a major barrier for small specialist organisations which rely more on qualitative data to illustrate success. We understand that NOMS will work with partners to develop the evidence base for commissioners, and will also explore how providers can gain access to data relating to their service users, in order to analyse and measure outcomes. This will be particularly important for gender-specific services for women.

7.4 We understand that the evidence base in relation to women offenders is still considered limited. We believe that NOMS intends to ask commissioners however, to take into account the contextual issues which disproportionately affect women offenders eg caring responsibilities, higher rates of mental illness and to suggest that “where possible”, services should be delivered in women only groups. TWP believes this to be wholly inadequate and stresses again the need for service specifications for women offenders to be designed specifically to address women’s needs.

7.5 Other reforms that will impact on local commissioning include:

The review of probation services in England and Wales, and plans for the reform of community sentences;

The reforms included in the Health and Social Care Act 2012 including the creation of the NHS Commissioning Board, Health and Wellbeing Boards and Clinical Commissioning Groups, and the transfer of public health functions to Local Authorities. These bodies will have full responsibility for offender health services from April 2013;

The election of Police and Crime Commissioners in England and Wales in November 2012

The Troubled Families Programme, running for three years from April 2012.

7.6 All of the above will have a bearing on sustaining the volume, range, quality, and sustainability of community provision for female offenders, including approved premises. It is not at all clear how the inter-connected commissioning agendas will be coordinated and there is a risk that services targeting vulnerable women and their children will not be afforded sufficient priority or that designated resources will be stretched across too many commissioning bodies.

7.7 TWP currently has contracts with West Yorkshire, Humberside and South Yorkshire Probation Trusts and we have a track record of innovation and success. We have re-configured our organisational structures to take account of reduced central funding and are “doing more for less”. We are confident that our services can deliver the outcomes necessary to reduce reoffending by women but we are concerned that the likely procurement methods may result in the future in contracts being awarded to large, commercial companies with the infrastructure and bidding expertise necessary to successfully engage in competitive tendering.

7.8 In order to achieve the best possible outcomes for vulnerable women it is necessary that Probation Trusts, and other relevant commissioning bodies, such as Clinical Commissioning Groups, Health and Well-being Boards and Police and Crime Commissioners, explore co-production and collaborative approaches to commissioning. We would like to work closely with commissioners to ensure that they fully understand the gender-specific needs of women and are aware of the methods of work that most effectively tackle multiple, complex needs.

7.9 It has taken years to increase understanding of women’s specific needs and there is a risk that a localised, fragmented, potentially commercially-driven approach to commissioning, will fail to maintain current levels of progress. Some national oversight of the way in which services are commissioned would help to reduce this risk.

8. The availability of appropriate provision for different groups of women offenders, including, under 18s, women with children, foreign nationals and black, Asian and minority ethnic women, and those with mental health problems

8.1 TWP is very aware that the diverse needs of vulnerable women require specifically tailored responses. We do not believe that there is currently sufficient focus on how best to meet the needs of specific groups. There are pockets of good practice but where this exists it is not effectively promoted and shared nationally. Issues of diversity and equality of access to appropriate provision are frequently glossed over.

8.2 Gender specific provision for girls (those under 18) is a neglected area of good practice. However, there is some research which explores the issues and raises questions about the sustainability of existing gender specific approaches4. Much more should be done to promote this.

8.3 Jean Corston argued the need for a distinct strategy for foreign national women in prison but this has not been addressed. In fact, according to the Prison Reform Trust:

“If anything, due to the government’s focus on ensuring that “foreign criminals” do not have rights to remain in the country, the expansion of the Immigration Removal Centre (IRC) estate and a focus on fast track removals, the plight of this group has worsened.”5

8.4 The numbers of Black and Asian women in the criminal justice system remain disproportionate to the numbers in the population but there is a lack of focus on this specific problem. There is also a lack of evaluation to illustrate how effective current community based provision is in meeting the particular needs of women from minority ethnic groups.

8.5 TWP works closely with specialist mental health service providers but in areas with no TWP equivalent there is a concern that women with mental health needs are not able to access appropriate assessment, treatment and support. Much more needs to be done to address this gap.

8.6 We note that NOMS are currently developing an approach for the 2013–2014 commissioning cycle which fulfils their statutory duties under the Equality Act (2010) to consider the impact of policy and funding choices on groups with protected characteristics. We hope that gender is given appropriate consideration within any diversity strategy that develops, and that service specifications require providers to show how they will address diverse and specialist needs for people with protected characteristics. In order to illustrate competence in providing services that meet the needs of diverse group’s potential providers should be required to demonstrate how they do this currently.

8.7 Women’s community projects, like TWP, have expertise and understanding in relation to diverse groups of women and can offer an approach that takes account of age, culture, faith, ethnicity, sexual identity and disability. Some services are geared specifically to meeting the needs of girls and young women transferring from the youth to the adult justice systems. Our previous comments about co-production and including the service user voice in commissioning processes illustrate our commitment to ensuring that the specific and varied needs of different groups of women and girls can be adequately understood and met. The key to ensuring appropriate provision lies in effective partnership work between statutory and voluntary agencies at local level within a national framework setting out centrally agreed strategy.

September 2012


1. Hedderman, C. (2012) Report for the Criminal Justice Alliance Empty Cells or Empty Words: Government policy on reducing the number of women going to prison. London: Criminal Justice Alliance http://www.criminaljusticealliance.org/docs/CJA_WomenPrisonReportFINAL.pdf

2. Women’s Breakout is a third sector umbrella organisation representing voluntary and community sector organisations working with women offenders and women at risk of involvement in the criminal justice system in gender sensitive environments. TWP is a member of the Women’s Breakout Executive Board. http://www.womensbreakout.org.uk/

3. Ministry of Justice (2012) NOMS Commissioning Intentions 2013-14: Discussion Document. London: MoJ http://www.justice.gov.uk/downloads/about/noms/commissioning-intentions-2013-14.pdf

4. Mathews, S. and Smith, C. (2009) The Sustainability of Gender Specific Provision In the Youth Justice System. London Griffins Society Research Paper 2009/04 http://www.thegriffinssociety.org/Research_paper_2009_4.pdf

5. No Way Out, a Briefing Paper on Foreign National Women in Prison in England and Wales, Prison Reform Trust (London) 2012 http://www.prisonreformtrust.org.uk/Portals/0/Documents/NoWayOut.pdf

TWP: Needs, Goals and Achievements - Headlines

Cohort of 1252 women assessed 1/4/11 – 31/3/12

1. Complexity of Need

60% of women assessed had between 5-8 areas of need (out of 11) scoring 50 or more (out of 100), classified as a serious problem

Mode no. of needs was 7 (n = 208, 16.6%)

The highest percentages of need were present in those with 7 areas of need

Of those with 7 areas of need, the following % had these needs:

37% Drugs

38% Alcohol

38% Physical Health

43% Parenting

58% Personal Safety

69% Accommodation

78% Finance

81% ETE

82% Social and Cultural Integration

84% Mental Health

93% Life Skills

2. Drugs

43% (n = 533) of all women assessed had some problem with drugs

33% scored 50+

36% had a goal relating to drugs

30% had a goal of achieving abstinence

Abstinence was achieved by 62% of these when reviewed at the end of their period of contact with TWP

31% had a goal of reducing the frequency or seriousness of the drugs taken

This was achieved by 56%

3. Alcohol

51% (n = 634) of all women assessed had some problem with alcohol

39% scored 50+

35% had a goal relating to alcohol

16% had a goal of achieving abstinence

Abstinence was achieved by 49% of these when reviewed at the end of their period of contact with TWP

45% had a goal of reducing the frequency or seriousness of their alcohol intake

This was achieved by 63%

4. Physical Health

53% (n = 662) of all women assessed had some problem with their health

36% scored 50+

31% had a goal relating to their health

47% had a goal of achieving an improvement to their health and well-being

This was achieved by 65% of these when reviewed at the end of their period of contact with TWP

5. Parenting

52% (n = 650) of all women assessed had some problem with parenting

40% scored 50+

54% had a goal of improving their parenting skills

This was achieved by 78% of these when reviewed at the end of their period of contact with TWP

43 of the women had one or more child(ren) removed from a child protection register

11 had one or more child(ren) returned from care to live with them

6. Personal Safety

69% (n = 866) of all women assessed had some problem with their personal safety

55% scored 50+

56% had a goal of minimising the risk of harm from others

This was achieved by 69.2% of these when reviewed at the end of their period of contact with TWP

45% had a goal of achieving a reduction in the level of domestic abuse

This was achieved by 73%

7. Accommodation

66% (n = 830) of all women assessed had some problem with their accommodation

56% scored 50+

50% had a goal relating to their accommodation

12% (no. = 73) had a goal of moving from unsafe to safe accommodation

This was achieved by 54%% of these when reviewed at the end of their period of contact with TWP

30% of all those with accommodation problems improved their living standards

8. Finance

80% (n = 995) of all women assessed had some problem with their finances

66% scored 50+

54% had a goal relating to their finances

54% had a goal of reducing or managing their debts

This was achieved by 65% of these when reviewed at the end of their period of contact with TWP

19% had a goal of improving their budgeting skills

This was achieved by 48%

9. ETE

87% (n = 1092) of all women assessed had some problem with

74% scored 50+

61% had a goal relating to education, training or employment

18% had a goal of increasing their capacity to work

This was achieved by 58% of these when reviewed at the end of their period of contact with TWP

12% had a goal of improving their basic skills

This was achieved by 40%

Of all those with ETE needs, 123 (11%) were currently in paid work when reassessed, and 73 (7%) had sustained paid work for at least 4 weeks

10. Social & Cultural Integration

76% (n = 949) of all women assessed had some problem with their integration within society

75% scored 50+

55% had a goal relating to integration

65% had a goal of reducing their social isolation

This was achieved by 93% of these when reviewed at the end of their period of contact with TWP

Of all those with a social integration need, 609 (89%) had improved their social connections

11. Mental Health

75% (n = 938) of all women assessed had some problem with

69% scored 50+

59% had a goal relating to their mental health

38% had a goal of improving their mental health

This was achieved by 56% of these when reviewed at the end of their period of contact with TWP

28% had a goal of managing their mental health better

This was achieved by 44%

Of all those with mental health needs, 354 (48%) were accessing mental health services when reassessed

12. Life Skills

73% (n = 908) of all women assessed had some problem with

40% scored 50+

78% had a goal of achieving greater self-esteem or confidence

This was achieved by 65% of these when reviewed at the end of their period of contact with TWP

Prepared 12th July 2013