A Shine Mentor on Women Offenders: From Where I Stand...

A Shine Mentor on Women Offenders: From Where I Stand...

In Shine Mentoring's most recent newsletter, Mary Thomson, a Shine mentor, reflects on her work with those most vulnerable people in our criminal justice system. Her work as a one-to-one mentor has provided her a unique position to see that women in the criminal justice system do not suffer from some sort of criminal pathology, but are people shaped by poverty, abuse and extreme social deprivation. Shine works to support change rather than punish women:

'When the Report of the Commission on Women Offenders, by Dame Elish Angiolini, was published on 17 April 2012 I had already been working as a mentor in Sacro’s Women’s Mentoring Service in Lanarkshire for almost two years. As a mentor, I was supporting women aged 16 and over who had offended to make changes to their lifestyles and reduce their chances of receiving a custodial sentence. During this time I had worked with some of the most vulnerable and damaged women in our community. Typically the women referred had experienced multiple abuse: sexual, physical and emotional. Many had issues with substance misuse and poor mental health. Almost all were on welfare benefits. When you add low educational achievement and lack of self-esteem into the equation it was no surprise that most of the women referred to our service required substantial, long term interventions to help them make changes to their lives, now and in the future.

Sometimes my work is crisis intervention e.g. helping our service users to access food banks or emergency medical treatment. At other times we work to a pre-prepared action plan and support our service users to work towards goals they have set for themselves. I established group sessions to encourage the women to get together to learn new skills and build self-esteem; these proved to be very popular. Women were regularly being identified and referred by social workers or health care professionals who might benefit from the support of a mentor to improve their lifestyle and reduce offending.

I was constantly frustrated at the imbalance between the need for support and the lack of funds to provide it. I believe that Dame Angiolini’s recommendation for more mentors directly resulted in additional funding being made available to recruit and train more mentors. Extra funding brought three new mentor posts to Lanarkshire through the Shine Mentoring project, effectively providing support for 90 more women in Lanarkshire per year. It is vital that this funding is made available long term. It would be pitiless to support a woman and then have to withdraw this support prematurely due to lack of funding. With the changes to the welfare system and welfare sanctions that we are seeing on such a regular basis, I feel that women need the support and encouragement of a mentor now, more than ever to help her navigate through crippling levels of poverty yet desist from offending'.

 
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