Today, mental health charity Together launches a new guide that offers professionals the tools to recognise and respond to the health and wellbeing needs of women offenders.
Despite recommendations made in the 2007 Corston report, around 13,500 women are still sent to prison each year1. More than half of these women have severe mental illness and the same proportion will have experienced domestic violence2.Their complex and multiple needs are often overlooked by criminal justice staff3, putting them at greater risk of re-offending.
Written by front-line forensic mental health practitioners from Together’s growing Women’s Court Liaison and Outreach Service, the aim of the guide is to support professionals to identify and address the needs of women offenders. It does this by giving them practical guidance on spotting potential issues, as well as the tools to refer women to specialist community-based support services that can improve their wellbeing and tackle their offending.
‘A common sense approach to working with women with health and wellbeing needs in the criminal justice system’ will be launched today by Vera Baird, Police and Crime Commissioner for Northumbria, at an event organised by Together and hosted by London Probation Trust. Health and criminal justice experts will meet to learn about working with women offenders and the steps they can take to ensure women have the best possible outcomes. The event includes a theatre performance that will bring the issue to life, presented by Clean Break and written and performed by graduates of the company’s education programme.
Linda Bryant, Manager of Together’s Criminal Justice services said: “Together’s experience of working with women at court and within probation is that they are less likely to draw attention to their needs, often due to depression or anxiety or fear of the repercussions.
We have to make sure we identify the health and wellbeing needs of these women – needs that are often significant factors in their offending – so that we can divert them to specialist community services equipped to support them. This must be done at the earliest possible point; before these needs escalate, before offending behaviour becomes engrained and before a revolving door cycle becomes inevitable.
We hope that this guide offers everyone working on the criminal justice frontline – from police to the Judiciary – the practical tools needed to set women on the path to wellbeing”.
Vera Baird, QC and Police and Crime Commissioner for Northumbria said: “The new Together guide shows why we must focus on the distinct, complex issues affecting women within the criminal justice system. Despite being in the small minority, their needs are often not met, especially when it comes to health and wellbeing.
“It is important that all partners come together to learn how we can address women-specific needs in the criminal justice system and to ensure that those who work on the front line have the expertise to recognise issues and just as importantly, to respond to them in a way which shows compassion. This guide will go a long way in supporting professionals to do this.”
Mary Pilgrim, Lead on Women’s Offender Issues, London Probation Trust said: “Together’s new ‘common sense approach to working with women’ is excellent, spelling out for us the gender-specific approach we need to take to ensure we identify the needs of women in contact with the criminal justice system and factors we need to consider for effective engagement.
“The quick reference guide to signs and symptoms of health and well-being problems is particularly welcome and we value the references to trauma experienced by many women in contact with the criminal justice system”.
Click here to download Together’s new guide A common sense approach to working with women with health and wellbeing needs in the criminal justice system
1. Reforming Women’s Justice: reducing the imprisonment of women (November 2012).
The Prison Reform Trust. http://www.prisonreformtrust.org.uk/Portals/0/Documents/Womenleaflet.pdf
2. Bromley Briefings Prison Factfile (December 2010). The Prison Reform Trust.
3. A Distinct Approach: A guide to working with women offenders. NOMS Women and Equalities Group (March 2012).