Women offenders to receive better support thanks to new partnership

As one of just four areas in the country receiving funding from the Ministry of Justice (MOJ), a project is about to launch in Norfolk providing earlier and more effective support to women at risk of offending, with the aim of reducing the number of women entering the criminal justice system.

Having led on the funding bid, Norfolk’s Police and Crime Commissioner has been looking for a partner organisation with whom to deliver the Women Offenders of Norfolk Diversion, Engagement and Rehabilitation Project, known as WONDER.

“If we’re going to reduce the number of women being taken into police custody, going to court, serving prison sentences, and re-offending, then we have to understand what makes them vulnerable to committing crime”, said PCC Lorne Green.

“Unemployment, money worries, drug or alcohol dependency, sex-working, mental health issues, domestic and sexual abuse – any one, or combination of these, could be a contributory factor.

“I am delighted to announce that we will be working with Julian Support, in collaboration with the Sue Lambert Trust and the Magdalene Group, to deliver the WONDER project. The female offenders coming into contact with our criminal justice system often have complex needs, and can be some of the most vulnerable and disadvantaged women in society. It is vital they are able to access help and support to address the root causes and consequences of what they’re doing and, together, these three organisations have a whole raft of knowledge, experience and advice to offer them.

“If they choose to truly engage with the project, we can help them turn their lives around.”

Ben Curran, Head of Business Development at Julian Support, said: “This is a great opportunity to work with the OPCCN, and our partners in the Sue Lambert Trust and the Magdalene Group, to provide a unique and transformative service to women who are at a point of crisis in their lives.

“The WONDER Project is designed to engage effectively with women, ensuring that the support is accessible, targeted to their individual needs and gets to the core of the issues that have led them into contact with the criminal justice system. We want to support women to connect with community resources and rebuild their lives with a renewed sense of hope.”

The Project will seek to divert female detainees eligible to take part in the project from police custody facilities in Wymondham and King’s Lynn. The women participating in WONDER will be those who receive a conditional caution or those who voluntarily refer themselves on to the project.

All women taking part will meet with a project link worker, who will work with them to assess their individual needs and develop a support and development plan for addressing those needs. The link worker will mentor and support each woman to help them access and receive tailored support, following their progress. The project will put a particular focus on making support more accessible for women in rural areas.

For those women accessing WONDER with a conditional caution, if they follow their support and development plan, the caution will be completed; if not, then the police will take further action.

More information:

More than 3,000 women were detained by police in Norfolk in the 12 months to June 2015, of which 17% were held in custody on more than one occasion.

Statistics show that, in Norfolk, nearly 60% of all detained females are unemployed, around half have, or have had, mental health problems, physical issues or self-harm, one in four say they are dependent on prescription or other drugs, and one in ten report alcohol dependency.

23% of police detainees that are women have also been victims of crime – most commonly as victims of low level violence and domestic abuse. Female offenders are twice as likely to report experiencing abuse in their childhoods, twice as likely to commit crime to support someone’s drug habit, and 2.5 times as likely to need help with mental health issues when compared with male offenders.

Having invited bids from organisations wanting to deliver the initial 12-month project, Julian Support, in collaboration with the Sue Lambert Trust and the Magdalene Group, were successful in being selected.

Julian Support works with people with mental health difficulties, to help them lead an independent life of their choice, using its expertise and commitment to best practice to promote social inclusion.

Sue Lambert Trust works with survivors of childhood sexual abuse, rape, sexual assault and domestic violence, offering support to help survivors come to terms with what has happened to them.

The Magdalen Group works to improve the quality of individual women’s lives through prevention services and by providing support to women and young people who are affected by sexual exploitation and coercion.

The WONDER Project is part-funded by the MOJ. To demonstrate its commitment to the project, the OPCCN is contributing the remainder of the overall project cost of £101,735 from the PCC’s commissioning budget.