Together staff explain ways they provide mental health support to women in criminal justice settings for International Women’s Day
Posted on 10, March 2023
Within the Criminal Justice Services at Together for Mental Wellbeing we have a number of practitioners who provide specialist and tailored support to women within the Criminal Justice System. Here are what a few of those practitioners say about the work they do…
Carmel Pragnell, Liaison and Diversion Practitioner – Women’s Specialist
As a Liaison & Diversion Practitioner – women’s specialist, my role is to prioritise the needs and mental well-being of the women who are brought into custody. I assess their mental state during their time in court custody and inform the courts of any concerns relating to their mental health or social care needs. I then refer them to relevant support services in the community. We understand the importance of addressing the complex vulnerabilities experienced by women and supporting them to improve their lives away from the criminal justice system.
Ellie Oppenheim, Senior Assistant Psychologist – Women’s Mental Health Treatment Requirement Service
Working with women in the Criminal Justice System means ensuring that I always try to use trauma-informed approaches. I try to be as flexible as possible, taking into account the strains that many of the women have on their time due to childcare and work responsibilities.
I always hold in mind the possibility of current or historic domestic or sexual abuse, and try to create a safe and supportive space for women to open up about this. It’s also important to work collaboratively with the service users to empower them and to ensure they have autonomy in their care.
Bethany Amos, Liaison and Diversion Practitioner – Women’s Specialist
I am the Women’s Specialist Forensic Mental Health Practitioner based in Westminster Magistrates’ Court. In 2018/19, 21% of the 85,900 adults who engaged with liaison and diversion services were female.
According to Ministry of Justice (Statistics on Women and the Criminal Justice System, 2019), women in contact with the services more often had suspected alcohol misuse, financial needs, were abuse victims and had mental health needs compared to men. Women are more likely to be carers, live in poverty and experience domestic abuse and physical/sexual violence than men (Mental Health Foundation, retrieved March 2023). I aim to offer assessments to all women in custody to improve health and justice outcomes for women.
Many women in contact with the Criminal Justice System have experienced or continue to experience trauma and therefore, I follow a Trauma Informed Approach. This involves ensuring physical and emotional safety for women in an environment where women feel validated and respected; offering women choice; collaboration through shared decision making; being trustworthy, consistent and transparent through upholding Together’s values, beliefs and principles and empowering women to make positive changes by focusing on their strengths, building upon their skills and offering support from positive support networks and agencies.
I screen all women for suitability for the Women’s Mental Health Treatment Requirement, which provides women with the opportunity to safely explore difficult thoughts, feelings and past experiences, learn healthy coping mechanisms to reduce or replace unhelpful coping mechanisms and address the factors underpinning their offending behaviour, all of which have a remarkable impact on the women we support and their families.
Ioanna Palioura, Relief Senior Assistant Psychologist – Women’s Mental Health Treatment Requirement Service
With the opportunity of International Women’s Day, we would like to remind you of the gender specific guidelines that were finalised a few months ago. This task was a collaborative effort of women’s L&D practitioners at the time, Ioanna Palioura, Carmel Pragnell and Holly Price. The following guides have been reviewed/produced:
– Best practice guidelines for assessing women in the CJS
– Best practice guidelines for working with women in the CJS
– Gender specific L&D assessment tool
The guides provide in depth information on working with women in a trauma informed way. In addition, a gender specific assessment tool was produced. The gender specific assessment tool aims to assist court practitioners to complete assessments with women that are also capturing women’s specific needs and experiences.
The women’s strategic group has taken ownership of ensuring the documents are up-to-date and reviewed at regular intervals. For more information on the guides or to request a copy email firstname.lastname@example.org.
All of the practitioners quoted are members of a Women’s strategy group that meet quarterly with a specific focus on improving our service provision for women caught up at the various stages of the Criminal Justice System (including prison, courts, probation and community). We focus on: business development opportunities; Stakeholder engagement; feedback from any meetings, trainings or events attended; peer learning including any resources or literature with a focus on the data we collect across our Criminal Justice Services. This has been running since early 2021 and currently has 8 members chaired by our Deputy Operations and Development Manager.
Thank you to all the staff who contributed to this piece.