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The Government’s Female Offender Strategy was published in June 2018, having been promised in the 2016 Prison Safety and Reform white paper.

Launching the strategy, the Justice Secretary, David Gauke, said it set out the Government’s commitment to a new programme of work for female offenders, shifting the focus from custody to the community. He said:

  • We are committing to working with partners to assess options for delivering a ‘residential women’s centres’ pilot in at least five sites across England and Wales. We want to build the evidence base about what are effective, sustainable and scalable options in the community for diverting women from entering and re-entering custody on short custodial sentences. We will not be proceeding with plans to build five new Community Prisons for Women.[1]

The strategy’s introduction acknowledged the particular vulnerability of female offenders, noting that their vulnerabilities can “often contribute to their offending behaviours or how they engage and respond to interventions”. It stated that “many experience chaotic lifestyles involving substance misuse, mental health problems, homelessness, and offending behaviour” and noted that these are often the product of a life of abuse and trauma.

In the strategy the Ministry of Justice made three immediate commitments as a “first step”. It committed to:

  • Invest £5 million of cross-Government funding over two years in community provision for women
  • Work with local and national partners to develop a pilot for ‘residential women’s centres’ in at least five sites across England and Wales.
  • Reduce the number of women serving short custodial sentences

The Ministry of Justice also said it would:

  • Ask Lord Farmer to undertake a piece of work on the importance of family ties to improving outcomes for female offenders, continuing the work already done on this with regard to male offenders.
  • Replace Prison Service Order (PSO) 4800 on Women Prisoners with a Women’s Policy Framework.
  • Work across Government and with other national and local partners to develop a National Concordat on Female Offenders.

In a written statement on 27 June 2019 to mark the one year anniversary of the Strategy, the Minister, Edward Argar, listed the progress made in implementing the strategy:

  • we published, last December, a new policy framework for prison and probation staff working with women. This sets out duties, rules and general guidance for staff, and includes accompanying guidance covering a range of issues, such as ‘Caring for Perinatal Women in Prison’.
  • Lord Farmer’s Review for Women, commissioned by the strategy, was published on 18 June. I am immensely grateful to Lord Farmer for undertaking this review, which looks at how supporting female offenders in custody and community to engage with their families can lower recidivism, aid rehabilitation and assist in addressing the issues of intergenerational crime. We will look closely at how we can best give effect to Lord Farmer’s findings and recommendations.
  • We committed to develop a ‘residential women’s centre’ pilot in at least five sites across England and Wales, offering a robust alternative to short custodial sentences. We have recently concluded our first phase of consultation with local voluntary and statutory agencies, partners and providers from a range of backgrounds and specialisms across England and Wales to inform the scoping of this project. We will continue to consult with partners as we refine the design and delivery of the pilot.
  • Our strategy recognises the valuable role that sustainable community services, such as women’s centres, can play in supporting vulnerable women to turn their lives around. We have invested £5m in community services for women in 2018/19 and 2019/20. This funding is helping to sustain and enhance existing services, as well as supporting the development of new services in areas without provision. I am looking at opportunities to further increase sustainability of this sector, and would like to see agencies coming together to provide much needed multi-year funding.
  • Partnership working is a key theme of our strategy, and yesterday we held a major conference to promote multi-agency, Whole System Approaches (WSA) for local agencies including health, Police & Crime Commissioners and local authorities, to provide them with tools and information to enable them to develop a WSA in their local areas. We are working with other Government departments, stakeholders and local justice, statutory and voluntary agencies, to develop and publish a national concordat on female offenders by Autumn 2019. This will facilitate better joined up working and collaboration at both national and local level to improve outcomes for female offenders.[2]

[1] Female Offender Strategy: Written statement – HCWS800, 27 June 2018

[2  Female Offender Strategy- First Anniversary: Written statement – HCWS1662, 27 June 2019

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