218 Project - 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. Kirsten Jones, Service Co-ordinator, 218 Service, offers her perspective:

Over 10 years ago the 218 Service opened its doors with gusto with its mains aims: to reduce women’s offending and address the root causes of their offending.

We were cited as an innovative, “alternative to the mainstream” service with the luxury of having our own integrated health team based within the service, enabling us to meet these aims.

At this point there were few other specialist “women’s” services, let alone ones working with women offenders. Over the years we have continued to carry out our work with the same amount of passion and enthusiasm as we did 10 years ago. As we have continued to do this, the world outwith the 218 Service has started to evolve in relation to addressing the needs and raising the profile of women offenders in Glasgow and Scotland wide.

The Angiolini report was published and this gave credence to what we already knew: that there needed to be focussed time, energy and money put into services for women in the criminal justice system and that these women have complex needs and specialist services need to be designed with this in mind.

As a result of the Commission’s report it is refreshing to see the developments within our immediate city, Glasgow. How the profile of women offenders and specialist services working with them has been raised and it is a great privilege to know that our service has contributed to the best practice “blueprint” for some of the recommendations made in the Angiolini report that are to be rolled out across Scotland.

This is not to say that there is more work to be done. We are still working with the increasing difficulty in securing appropriate, safe accommodation along with the lack of availability of wider specialist services for women with borderline personality and post-traumatic stress disorders.

For the 218 Service, looking to the next 10 years, we hope that there will be continued commitment, investment and co-ordination in both current and new initiatives for women in the criminal justice. And we hope that the profile of women offenders is kept in the spotlight.

Anne Pinkman, SWGWO - 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. Anne Pinkman, Convener of the Scottish Working Group on Women’s Offending, offers her perspective:

The Scottish Working Group on Women Offenders (SWGWO) was established in 2010 to raise awareness of the needs of women offenders. We very much welcomed the establishment of the Commission on Women Offenders (CWO) and were pleased to involve all three Members of the Commission in a round table event on women’s offending in Scotland, that we co-hosted with SCCCJ (Scottish Centre for Crime and Criminal Justice) in October 2011 when the Commission was first established.

SWGWO also welcomed the Scottish Government’s response to the recommendations of the Commission, in particular, the commitment of the Cabinet Secretary for Justice to provide an annual report on progress to the Scottish Parliament. The two reports submitted to date provide details on the developments of services for women offenders. This includes the investment in a national mentoring service for women offenders alongside an investment over £3m to establish Women’s Centres, One-Stop-Shops and other initiatives to meet the needs of women offenders. The challenge, of course, will be to secure funds to sustain these initiatives should they prove to be effective.

To date, prison numbers for women remain high. On 28 March 2014, there were 395 women and young females in prison, 90 of them on remand. The investments, to date, have yet to impact significantly on these prison numbers. Still 70% of women remanded into custody do not go on to receive a custodial sentence.

SWGWO have mixed feelings about the investment by Scottish Prison Service in providing new prison facilities for women offenders. There is no doubt that the existing prison facilities do require to be improved but we are concerned new facilities may inadvertently bring about an increase in the numbers of women sent to prison.

On a final, and personal note, I have the privilege of visiting HMP and YOI Cornton Vale on a regular basis. At each visit, I always meet a prisoner who saddens me greatly. On my most recent visit, last week, I met a young woman with learning difficulties looking forward to celebrating her 30th birthday in prison. It was obvious prison was not the correct environment for this woman. Has the Commission made an impact? I think so but, looking at the population in HMP and YOI Cornton Vale, there is still a long way to go.

Karyn McCluskey,Violence Reduction - 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. Karyn McCluskey, Director of the Violence Reduction Unit, offers her perspective:

When Dame Elish Angiolini asked us to give evidence to the Commission, we were keen to do so for a number of reasons.

Firstly, we recognised that whilst violence is, and remains, a predominantly male issue, women were frequently the victims, and the women within Cornton Vale had been often the most victimised of all. Our work on the determinants of violence highlighted the effects of deprivation, domestic violence, sexual and emotional abuse and substance abuse to name but a few, in future offending and indeed victimisation. These determinants are present in huge numbers in the female offending population, and many of the women are serious offenders.

Secondly, I had been a staff nurse in Cornton Vale and my experience had been more akin to working in a psychiatric hospital, such was the level of acute and chronic mental health problems experienced by so many of the women. These were some of the most complex individuals within the criminal justice system such was the level of damage and neglect suffered by them.

Since the Angiolini report was published we have seen some significant change, women are now housed in improved conditions within HMP Edinburgh and Greenock and additional money has been given by the Scottish Government to address female offending. Furthermore, we see real change in the attitudes and desire within the Scottish Prison Service in the ‘Unlocking Potential - Transforming Lives’ strategy. The increase in mentoring for women through wonderful organisations such as Circle and others is laudable.

However, the Commission recommended some wide ranging changes and we know that services around post traumatic stress disorder, personality disorders and supported accommodation are often not available in the numbers required. Many of the strategic changes required in sentencing and the prison estate may not be seen for some time, and therefore we must maintain the vision of the report in the coming years.

Nevertheless, we believe that there are reasons to be optimistic that things are improving. The NHS is now delivering prison healthcare and already the conversation about delivery of service is changing. The Scottish Government has just consulted on widening use of electronic monitoring and indeed alcohol monitoring, which provides greater opportunity to address offending and behaviour change in the community, one of the recommendations of the Commission.

In the longer term, the work being undertaken by the Early Years Collaborative to address the determinants of violence should prevent fewer young women from entering the system. Yet the increases of women coming into the criminal justice system at present suggest that we are still failing many who could have been diverted earlier, who have been in care, who have been victimised and who have been victimised others, who are mothers and whose children are equally and often more impacted by parental imprisonment.

We are frequently struck by how often prison officers will mention that women offenders still run their home from prison, using her phone time to run the house, and organise the children’s school. We must jail those who we are afraid of, and from whom the public must be protected. Yet internationally, and in Scotland, we know of good practice where women are diverted from the prison system and consequently have better outcomes, as do their children. That must be the goal we aspire to.

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.

Sarah Roberts, Families Outside - 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. Sarah Roberts, Child and Family Support Manager at Families Outside, offers her perspective:

When Helen (not her real name) was remanded into custody, a Criminal Justice Social Work (CJSW) report was written - standard procedure for a first-time offender. However, whilst the report mentioned that Helen was the sole carer of three young children, no questions were asked about care arrangements or the impact that her inevitable prison sentence would have on them or about the wider family members who became their guardians. Rather, the report merely stated that “it is assumed that the remaining family [would] take on the care of the children.” Helen received a life sentence, and three children faced life without a mother with no assessment of their needs and no support package in place.

Despite the thirty-seven recommendations in the Angiolini report, the Commission stated that Child Impact Assessments were not necessary as a distinct recommendation because that is included in the role of the CJSW report. However, CJSW reports are not required in the majority of cases, nor do they provide detailed information regarding family circumstances or the impact on children, as is evident in Helen’s case.

An assessment highlighting the needs of Helen’s children, and the family members left caring for them, would have made an enormous difference to everyone and to their subsequent access to support. I know this because I was the children’s teacher. I knew about the crime from newspaper reports, but not once did any of those papers comment on the impact of what had happened on Helen’s children. They didn’t mention the trauma the children had experienced; the shame they felt; the bullying they received; the mental health problems that two of them subsequently developed. They didn’t tell of the pressure and strain on the family members now caring for three extra children. Because no one asked the family how this might impact them, because there was no conversation about support available, the family struggled on, isolated. And because as a school we didn’t understand the impact of imprisonment on children, we struggled on, too – no one really talking about the main issue; no support package that met the actual needs of the children.

What’s important here is that a Child Impact Assessment would not have made a difference to the sentence; Helen would have received a lengthy custodial sentence anyway. Child Impact Assessments are not about reducing or avoiding sentences; rather, they are about focusing on the circumstances of those who will be affected by the sentence - the innocent who are punished alongside their family member. They are about asking, ‘How can we minimise negative impact here?’

I was so concerned about the lack of a Child Impact Assessment for Helen’s children that I left my teaching job and undertook research in the US and Australia, looking at the role of schools in supporting families affected by imprisonment. My research findings are a whole other blog (available on the Families Outside website), but I can summarise all the conversations with imprisoned parents, their children and carers in a few words. When I asked them all what it is they want, they said this: ‘I want someone to ask how I am doing; I want to be listened to; I want to be involved in decisions that are made about me; I want to be connected and included.’ That sounds to me exactly like the purpose of a Child Impact Assessment. We need to stop doing things to people and start doing things with people. We need to take the wider view and focus not solely on the sentence in relation to the offence but on those affected by the sentence.

Perhaps if there had been a Child and Family Impact Assessment for Helen’s children, there could have been support put in place for the family members who were left caring for them; perhaps they would have felt more confident in sharing information with the school; perhaps teachers at my school would have had a greater understanding of how to reach out to families affected by imprisonment; perhaps we could have prevented two children developing mental health issues. With some exceptions, the fact is that CJSW reports do not yet go far enough when it comes to our most vulnerable children and families. Women in the criminal justice system are particularly vulnerable, and we need to keep asking the questions that the Angiolini report raised within its recommendations. What the impact of imprisonment is on the remaining children and families, and how best to support them through this, seems like a good place to start.