Tom Halpin, Sacro - Women's Penal Policy

Tom Halpin, Sacro - 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. Tom Halpin, Chief Executive, SACRO and Chair of the Shine partnership, offers his perspective:

The Commission on Women Offenders Report was not a ‘wake up’ call, it was a long needed ‘holding to account’ for us all.

Today, the report card for work done to meet the Commission’s recommendations reads ‘making good progress, but still needs to focus on outcomes’.

This last year has definitely been about delivering the services that women need. Public Social Partnerships are an emerging model for designing and delivering these services. Shine Women’s Mentoring Service is now providing personal mentors to support women on a one-to-one basis with the issues many face in the community. After a period in custody, it is a difficult time for anyone and often it is not easy to access services.

For women, these issues are emotionally significant; frequently further damaging already low self-esteem. The Shine mentor will talk these things through with a woman in prison and then remain with her on release to give support both practically and emotionally for a minimum of six months. This support is designed to rebuild self-esteem and make the change needed on a personal journey to a life without offending. This is the outcome we all must support through the services we provide. It is too early to write the final report card, but progress is good.

Mentoring support is now firmly established across all Scotland’s communities and available for women leaving prison. We are also making progress supporting women on remand. This is an anomaly where the disproportionately high numbers compared to men on remand needs to be scrutinised further.

Along with other established mentoring initiatives, Shine is working with the women’s justice centres and linked services to ensure the woman’s journey is supported and joined up.

Individual testimonies from women who engage with Shine are overwhelmingly positive and provide confidence that Angiolini’s recommendation for mentoring support is the right response. Testimonies like that of Miss L, who stated that having a mentor to talk to has helped her think about the consequences of her actions and given her confidence in her ability to adhere to her plans to stop offending. She was delighted to tell her mentor that when a drug dealer had visited her home and offered her drugs, Miss L refused the offer and told him to leave and never come back.

Importantly, this is also about those dedicated workers and volunteers who support women on their journey to desistance from offending. A crucial element of the response to the Commission has been how the workforce is developing. Collaboration between public, private and third sector staff and volunteers is frankly inspirational. Building a common understanding of what mentoring support is, establishing practice standards to safeguard all and sharing learning for the benefit of women.

Scotland has responded to the Commission and is holding itself to account. But the final report grade will depend on the outcomes we achieve. There are still too many women in prison, particularly on remand.

Too many women still find themselves in the margins having difficulty accessing services like housing and health, particularly in relation to mental health.

So long as we continue to stay alert, our next report should read ‘very good and outcomes are being achieved’.

Category Women