Maura Daly, Circle - Women's Penal Policy

Maura Daly, Circle - Women's Penal Policy

Women offenders: ‘From where I stand…’

This blog is part of a series considering developments two years on from the publication of the report by the Commission on Women Offenders. Maura Daly, Operations Manager for Circle Scotland, offers her perspective:

As a result of the Angiolini report, £2.7m of the Scottish Government’s Reducing Reoffending Change Fund was allocated to set up a national mentoring service for women offenders. The mentoring service was set up as a Public Social Partnership – a partnership between public and third sector organisations, which co-designs and works together to deliver the service. The partnership consists of SACRO, Apex Scotland, Barnardo’s, Circle, Wise Group, Turning Point Scotland, Access to Industry, Venture Trust, the Scottish Prison Service, Association of Directors of Social Work and Scotland’s eight Criminal Justice Authorities.

Circle’s role within this has been to build on our well-established work with families affected by imprisonment and we have been supporting women who are mothers from both prison and community sentences. Circle’s model of whole family support views the woman first as a mother rather than as an offender; our strengths-based approach seeks to support her as a parent with responsibilities, and use this as a catalyst for addressing her offending and substance misuse. Our work, which takes place in the prison, the family home and the local community, is both practical and emotional and addresses every sphere of difficulty – housing, finances, health, and security alongside substance misuse, childhood abuse, and domestic violence. Our work, which has been externally evaluated, reaches beyond the offender: “the family support offered by Circle could provide a valuable contribution towards reducing the inter-generational cycle of offending and poor outcomes for the children of offenders” (Evaluation 2013).

In terms of what still needs to be done, our concern is that too many women are being imprisoned. The doubling of the number of women imprisoned over the past 12 years without a change to patterns or volume of offending is inexplicable. The majority are women who need help and support rather than punishment; there is a real danger of doing more harm than good by sending women into an environment that does not have the capacity to meet their complex needs. More community sentences are needed which take account of the research on women offenders and women’s desistance from crime; they need to be designed to adapt to the chaotic lifestyles the women lead to avoid breaches.

A further issue needing addressed is that despite calls for impact assessments to be undertaken prior to sentencing, no account is taken of whether the person being sentenced is a parent and the consequences of imprisonment on the families left behind – the stigma and loss it creates for children and the burden it places on extended family and on statutory care services.

Category Women