21st November 2021
A new report by Advance - a London-based women’s organisation - entitled “The Impact of Community Support on Diverting Women from the Criminal Justice System” details the characteristics of women who offend in the UK, the findings of their research on diverting women from the criminal justice system, and key recommendations to Government and other actors.
Women who Offend
The report explains that women are more likely to be arrested for “low-harm” offences and are more likely than men to be imprisoned for their first offence. The report also notes that black women are twice as likely to be arrested as white women. Furthermore, the report details some core characteristics of women in UK prisons;
COVID-19 had a particularly bad impact on these women, as self-harm rates are at the highest ever levels among women in prison in the UK.
Women’s Diversion Service
The report details research on the efficacy of the Women’s Diversion service, which aims to divert women who commit low-level offences from the criminal justice system at the point of arrest and was founded in 2019 by Advance and other partners. The service works by allowing police to offer women a conditional caution and referral to the service as an alternative to prosecution.
Every woman referred to the service is assisted by a Keyworker, who assesses the woman’s individual needs and risks. A personal support plan is then tailored to each woman, and the service operates for up to 6 months, with the option of onward referral if support is still needed after that time. The goal is for the women to address the circumstances that led them to commit offences.
After sifting through data, case records, and lived experiences of 175 women, the report considered what Advance and other agencies could do to help women break the cycle of reoffending.
It was clear that not enough women in need of support were being referred to the Women’s Diversion Service because referrals were limited to women being given conditional cautions. Of 160 women who were arrested for low-level offences, many were in high need of services – 67% reported mental health needs, for example, and 65% reported experience of domestic abuse. 30% of women reported concurrent issues with their mental health, and domestic and substance abuse.
After availing of supports in the Women’s Diversion Service, 89% reported better mental health, and 100% felt safer from domestic abuse. Three months after leaving the service, 100% of women self-reported that they were less likely to reoffend, 100% said they had a better relationship with their children, and 74% were already in employment.
Only 7% of women who attended two or more appointments with the service referred from a conditional caution went on to reoffend, which is incredibly low when compared with the national reoffending rate for women at 23.4%.
The key recommendations of the report were as follows:
Read the report in full here