The government has set out proposals to reduce women’s offending over the period of the 2022–25.
This Delivery Plan sets out how Government will deliver four key priorities to reduce women’s offending over the next three years.
• Fewer women entering the justice system and reoffending
• Fewer women serving short custodial sentences with a greater proportion managed successfully in the community
• Better outcomes for women in custody
• Protecting the public through better outcomes for women on release
Women in contact with the criminal justice system are amongst the most vulnerable in society. Many experience trauma, domestic abuse, mental health problems or have a history of alcohol and drug misuse. Prisoners with disabilities are overrepresented amongst the female offender population, and whilst most girls in care and care leavers do not become involved with criminal activity, they also remain overrepresented in the criminal justice system. Female offenders are also more likely than male offenders to be the main carer for dependent children. Evidence shows that sex shapes experiences of custody and justice. Factors that can lead men and women to commit crime, and to reoffend, can vary significantly, as can the way men and women respond to interventions designed to address their offending behaviour. There is evidence that an approach that takes account of the different needs and backgrounds of women, including those of ethnic minority women who are overrepresented in the criminal justice system, is most effective in addressing their offending behaviour.
Many of the women who come into contact with the criminal justice system have experienced domestic abuse, mental health problems or have a history of alcohol and drug misuse. They often commit non-violent, low-level offences, for which many receive short custodial sentences. They are also over-represented in prosecutions for specific offences, particularly non-police prosecutions.
In the year ending in June 2022 women accounted for 75% of defendants prosecuted for TV licence evasion, 69% of defendants prosecuted for truancy of a child, and 58% of defendants proceeded against for benefit fraud, where the defendant’s gender was known, in 2021.
In the year ending June 2022, women sentenced for theft, summary non-motoring offences and miscellaneous crimes against society also accounted for over half (58%) of all women given custodial sentences of less than 12 months (compared to 47% of men).
In some cases, their offending could have been prevented through earlier intervention, including through diversion from the criminal justice system and into support. Failure to intervene early and to divert where appropriate can result in convictions, which in turn can lead to a loss of accommodation and employment, disruption to families and children and the beginning of a cycle of intergenerational offending.
Effective intervention and diversion requires a joined-up response by a wide range of government departments and statutory agencies, particularly the police and health service, who will often encounter vulnerable women at risk of offending. Services need to be alert and responsive to the trauma, including domestic abuse and sexual violence, that many of these women have faced.
Services that are trauma-responsive have staff trained to understand the prevalence and impact of trauma and ensure that those accessing the service are not re-traumatised by any aspect of their experience.
Is it enough?
Commenting on the Female Offender Strategy Delivery Plan published the Ministry of Justice, Niki Scordi, CEO at Advance, said:
“We welcome the Female Offender Strategy Delivery Plan as a step in the right direction. We want every woman in contact with the criminal justice system in England and Wales to have access to long term support, but without consistent investment this is simply not possible, and we are setting women up to fail.
There are strong links between women’s experience of domestic abuse and offending. Women can become trapped in the revolving door of the criminal justice system. Most women arrested, despite being first time offenders, have high levels of multiple needs, with 67% reporting mental health needs, whilst 65% are victims of domestic abuse.
We know that diverting women away from the criminal justice system improves the lives of women, their families, and the wider community.
However, the current system is not working for women. Women’s centres and services up and down the country need long-term funding to ensure that their needs are being met. Women in contact with the criminal justice system are being referred to women’s centres for support, but the absence of adequate funding means that we are unable to continue to support them for enough time to make a real difference.
The current investment pledged to help women in contact with the criminal justice system is a postcode lottery. Support is available, but not everywhere for every woman.”
What do we do?
We work very hard to ensure the best outcomes for our female clients and ensure that there is a thorough investigation as to whether diversion from court is a viable alternative. In cases where custody is a possibility we always actively pursue more positive community based interventions.
How can we help?
We ensure we keep up to date with any changes in legislation and case law so that we are always best placed to advise you properly. If you would like to discuss any aspect of your case, please contact our team of criminal defence specialists on: 01376 511819