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Women Offender One-stop Shops

11th May 2011

Jonathan Djanogly responds to Madeleine Moon MP's debate on one-stop centres for women offenders or women's centres which aim to help and support women in turning their own lives around.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice (Mr Jonathan Djanogly): I thank the hon. Member for Bridgend (Mrs Moon) for raising this important issue. It has been a good debate with helpful contributions. As part of the proposals for reforming the justice system, the Government want to continue to focus on turning women away from crime. One-stop shops provide much needed community provision for women offenders. The complex reasons underlying women’s offending, and the particular vulnerabilities of women, were recognised by the Corston review in 2007, and Baroness Corston is welcome here today.

The hon. Lady began by mentioning funding, so I will also start with that issue in case I run out of time. I understand her point about consistency. It has always been the intention to embed the wider network of women’s community services—one-stop shops as they are sometimes known—into mainstream local commissioning. I acknowledge, however, that in the current fiscal climate, securing funding at local level has been extremely challenging for many projects. In recognition of that, and of the work needed to embed that approach into mainstream local commissioning, National Offender Management Services and the Corston Independent Funders’ Coalition have agreed over £3.2 million of funding for 2011-12, as the hon. Lady recognised, to sustain the majority of projects that were previously funded by the Ministry of Justice. In addition, Michael Spurr, chief executive of NOMS, has made a commitment from 2012-13 onwards to commission services that demonstrate effectiveness. That will be worked through as part of the discussions on the allocation of next year’s budget.

Baroness Corston’s report highlighted the different risks and needs faced by women. Women are more likely to serve short sentences for acquisitive crime, and to have complex needs that could include a combination of mental health, drug or alcohol problems, or long histories of abuse. As the hon. Lady noted, 37% of female prisoners self-harm compared with 7% of male prisoners. Women tend to be convicted for less serious offences—34% of women prisoners were sentenced for theft and handling offences, compared with 17% of men. About 45% of those remanded in custody in both the magistrates courts and the Crown court do not get a custodial sentence. Women offenders are also likely to be victims of crime.

The costs of the failure to tackle women’s offending do not relate only to criminal justice—55% of women in prison have children under the age of 18, and imprisoned mothers are more likely to be lone parents. Twelve per cent. of their children are in care, staying with foster parents or have been adopted. There is, therefore, both a social case and a strong business case for tackling those issues in the community, not least because of the possibility of breaking the intergenerational cycle of offending.

Mr Andrew Smith: Given the commitment the Minister has made, which I welcome, will he undertake that future payment-by-result contracts will have a dedicated stream to address the needs of women offenders?

Mr Djanogly: I will come on to talk about payment by results, and we are certainly looking at that matter.

Baroness Corston called for a greater focus and a gender-specific approach to women in the criminal justice system, and the development of one-stop shops for women offenders was strongly influenced by that report. The Government broadly accept the conclusions in Baroness Corston’s report, and we want to ensure that earlier progress continues as part of wider reforms to sentencing and rehabilitation.

A key part of that approach has been the development of a network of women’s community services over the past two years. Funding was given to well-established voluntary sector providers to develop effective community-based interventions, working in partnership with probation services. That approach aimed to provide new options for the courts, strong bail provision and robust community sentences. Most of those services are based around a central hub such as a building—a one-stop shop, for example—or a key worker, so that at any point in the criminal justice system, women can access support to meet their complex needs and turn them away from crime.

To date, 45 projects have been supported, including 13 that were jointly funded by the Corston Independent Funders’ Coalition through the women’s diversionary fund. Over 4,600 women have been referred to those projects—58% with drug and alcohol needs, having made positive progress, and 56% with health needs, including problems of mental health. Women’s bail services were also funded to enhance the Bail Accommodation and Support Service contract, and to provide higher levels of support and mentoring for women.

The Government recognise that voluntary sector organisations have long shown the way in providing some of the solutions to reoffending. The £2 million partnership between the MOJ and the Corston Independent Funders’ Coalition is a ground-breaking and ongoing collaboration that is, I believe, an excellent example of the big society in action.

Nationally, we are beginning to make an impact on these deeply entrenched problems. The women’s prison population has reached a plateau—as the right hon. Member for Oxford East (Mr Smith) pointed out, numbers of women serving short sentences fell by 12% between 2008 and 2009. NOMS works to ensure that we take account of women’s different needs, and has developed gender-specific standards. It works to promote and support community-based interventions for women, including out-of-court disposals to intervene at earlier stages. A specific strand of work with probation trusts exists in some of the highest remanding areas.

Criminal justice champions, including the judiciary, are also working to raise awareness and increase confidence in community-based interventions for women. Baroness Corston, the chair of the all-party group on women in the penal system, which focused on women’s diversion, has acknowledged that improvement in her assessment of the progress made that was published at the beginning of the year.

There is, however, more to do. We want to ensure that community services are in place to meet women’s complex needs and to help them to stop reoffending. The coalition Government do not view effective rehabilitation as what my hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Mrs Grant) called “the fluffy option”, and I am pleased to highlight that again today. In December we published a Green Paper entitled “Breaking the cycle: effective punishment, rehabilitation and sentencing of offenders” because we could see that the system was not delivering what really matters, such as more effective punishments that reduce the prospect of offenders reoffending time and again. That pattern is true for many women offenders as well as men. Our aim was to set out how changes to the sentencing framework, coupled with more effective rehabilitation, will help to break the cycle of crime and prison. In the constituency of the hon. Member for Bridgend, many of the issues that affect rehabilitation, such as health and education, are devolved matters. We are working with the Welsh Assembly to consider how we can take forward our plans in Wales.

The Green Paper provides an opportunity to put a spotlight on the issue of turning women away from crime. It recognises that the needs of women offenders are different, and that the majority of those offenders have multiple and complex needs. We are seeking to create more effective and robust community sentences, with greater flexibility for the assessment and provision of mental health requirements and treatment as part of a community order. We must do more to promote recovery from dependency, and we know that more effective rehabilitation will reduce the number of victims.

The Green Paper confirmed our commitment to an approach that addresses all those matters, including the development, together with the Department of Health, of more intensive community-based drug treatment options for women offenders. It recognises that the criminal justice system is not always the best place to manage the problems of less serious offenders when the offending is related to mental health problems—an issue very relevant to women offenders. The MOJ, the Department of Health and the Home Office are working to ensure that front-line criminal justice and health agencies focus on identifying those people with mental health problems at an early stage of the criminal justice process.

There are also important plans for six payment-by-results pilots to reduce reoffending. Those pilots will test the principle of payment by results, and explore how different commissioning models can help to implement that system. We will ensure that women are included as part of the new approach. The “Breaking the cycle” consultation closed on 4 March 2011, and received over 1,200 responses. Baroness Northover led a consultation event on the specific implications for women. That stimulated an important and informative debate, and we received some thought-provoking responses on how we should further develop our approach to women offenders. The Government expect to publish their response soon in the Green Paper, but we have already started to deliver some of our plans for addressing problems of mental health and substance misuse. The Secretary of State for Health is investing £5 million in 20 mental health pathfinder areas, with the aim of ensuring that liaison and diversion services are available in police custody suites and at courts by 2014.

We already know from women’s community services how successful such schemes can be. In Birmingham, for example, the Anawim project has been working with partners to provide specialist mental health women’s services. Another major strand of work under way across Government is that of supporting victims of violence. That includes support for women offenders who have been abused and who may face barriers in accessing the support that they need. Women’s community services provide much needed support to that group. The MOJ and NOMS have worked with the Home Office in developing the “Call to End Violence Against Women and Girls: Action Plan.”

For women in prison there must be a much stronger focus on rehabilitation. Prisons should be places of education, work, rehabilitation and restoration, and we must ensure that all those approaches work with women offenders. For women leaving custody, support is needed to get resettled and eventually to be supported into stable employment.

Many women’s community services are working to improve women’s employability. North Wales women’s centre, for example, put together a package of support for women to gain skills and confidence by embedding that into practical learning through a volunteer programme that exposes participants to practical activities. That programme boosts confidence as well as giving the participant the opportunity to gain practical skills such as food hygiene within a simulated work environment. Across the women’s prisons estate good work is under way.

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