Frances Crook's blog · 12 Jul 2016
Women’s centres and Transforming Rehabilitation
Last week the All Party Parliamentary Group on Women in the Penal System, supported by the Howard League, held its AGM and heard from three women’s centres about what is happening to community sentences for women. It is a very depressing picture.
The centres giving evidence to MPs and Peers were: Anawim in Birmingham, Alana House in Reading and WomanCentre in Calderdale and Kirklees. All three centres used to provide support to, and manage, women who were convicted and sentenced, but no longer do this work.
Their success was astonishing. The women’s centres had reoffending rates of below 10%. Yet, all this has been destroyed with the handing over community sentences to private companies.
They said that the private companies that have taken over community sentences are only interested in numbers, shoving people through the system. This means that men and women are only given group work as an intervention, they no longer get any personal support. The new system is ticking boxes, literally. The companies had no evidence that this would have any impact on reducing crime or reoffending.
The women’s centres used to provide a wrap-around service, seeing the woman at the centre so that her problems and her offending could be solved. The centres would no longer be able to support women at court, get them to the doctor, visit their homes, solve problems with child care or drug addiction or domestic violence. The centres used to collate information on a woman’s life so they could help her live crime free, but much more than that, flourish as a person. This no longer happens, and the CRCs only want to know the number of women in the groups.
The centres said that CRCs often don’t send workers to meet women being released as the prisons are too far away and it’s too expensive. Instead a volunteer peer mentor might meet them at the probation office when they get back to their home area, but they do not have the skills or resources to provide much help. One witness told the APPG that her staff had to intervene when the contracted peer mentors went home at 5pm on a Friday, leaving a homeless woman with nowhere to turn. The women’s centre staff worked with her until 11pm when a bed was found.
Although, when it suits them, the CRCs are positively profligate with money. Apparently one hired a very expensive expert from the oil industry as a consultant, who knew nothing about the justice system, who advised the women’s centres to come together into a consortium so they could bid for a sub-contract with the CRC. The centres did this, at some cost to themselves from their charitable resources. Then the CRC changed its mind and told them each to submit individual bids and they had to compete with each other.
Centres were given draft contracts of 140 pages based on commercial contracts that included gagging orders. This meant they would be prohibited from criticising the service delivered to women by the CRC. It also included clauses that allowed the CRC to change the contract and charge the charitable women’s centres between £3,000 and £10,000 in fees for making and imposing the changes.
No wonder the centres walked away.
There may be times when commercial expertise is useful in the justice system, no one denies this, but the system set up to deliver community sentences for women is a disaster.