Prison system ‘fails’ female offenders… but GMP ‘have the answer’ for Manchester

Female offenders are being ‘failed’ by the current rehabilitation system, which ‘cannot help women’ – yet Greater Manchester Police claim their ground-breaking initiative will reduce the number who re-offend.

Utilising closer link-ups between police, probation, health and voluntary organisations, GMP believe the amount of time women spend behind bars will fall across the region.

In a meeting held yesterday at Manchester Town Hall, officials from the police alongside justice and rehabilitation professionals discussed the benefits of the Manchester pathfinder programme.

Rather than being given jail time, the scheme refers many women who are low risk offenders to women’s projects for assessments – which can mean cautions, community sentences and resolutions rather than prison.  

They also offer intervention at all stages of the justice process, from arrest to release. It includes drug and alcohol prevention as well as domestic abuse support.

Tony Lloyd, Police and Crime Commissioner for Greater Manchester Police (GMP), said: “We have a system that cannot help women.

“Women are carers. When you take women out of their homes, the support mechanism can be damaged, even broken.

“By providing offenders with a challenging regime, we can make a difference to offending behaviour.”

PCC Lloyd acknowledges that there are some cases that will not be affected by the new system due to the seriousness of the offence but stated that the ‘overwhelming majority’ do not fall into this category.

The project has been put together by the Justice and Rehabilitation Executive in order to change the way that existing services deal with women offenders. 

The board, formed in September 2013, consists of head figures from leading public service authorities in Greater Manchester.

Simon Hughes MP, Minister for Women in the Criminal Justice System, said: “Our rehabilitation process is an indictment of failure. We have failed people who have gone in.

“The first time someone comes into the criminal justice system, we need to intervene.

“Nine out of ten women leave people to be looked after when they go into prison. If you believe in family values then you should not be sending women to prison.”

The new delivery model will put into place a ‘whole care’ approach, joining up existing services so that low level female offenders are given the tools to re-join society without the risk of re-offending.

This will mean that females who have committed a minor offence will be assessed at the point where they arrive in police custody, before being referred to a number of rehabilitative services, including drug and alcohol support , employment and training services, counselling and parenting skills.

If the offender admits to the offence, and is willing to engage with the system put into the place, then she will receive a ‘conditional caution’.

Katie Fraser, Northern Manager of Women in Prison, said: “Supporting the needs of Women Offenders can only help to re-integrate them. Women have complex needs, and they are coming in with short sentences.

“We must have gender specific interventions at each point. It is about external agencies working together for a package of support at each stage.”

The idea, initially brought forward by the National Probation Service, looks at the circumstances of the female offender, and aims to tackle the root of the problem.

There are currently around 3,800 female prisoners in the UK. Fifty percent of women offenders have been victims of abuse, 33 per cent have been sexually abused, and over half have mental health problems.

Rebekah Sutcliffe, Assistant Chief Constable for the GMP, said: “This presents an opportunity to look at that woman as a person not an offender. It is an opportunity to generate an understanding.”

“Offending is a symptom of a wider set of circumstances present in that woman’s life.”

The scheme will focus on low-level offenders who have a ‘willingness to engage’ with the process.

There are nine existing women’s centres in Greater Manchester. Around £650,000 will be injected into the existing centres plus an additional grant from the National Offender Management service (NOM) in order to deliver the services to the increasing number of women who will be seen.

The new delivery model is now being implemented across Greater Manchester, and will deliver to more than 3,000 women offenders in the area.  

Image courtesy of Giandomenico Ricci, with thanks.

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