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The role women play in the criminal justice system

This week PCC Alison Hernandez discusses the Safer For Women conference and recognises some of the women in the criminal justice system

On Thursday 8 March some of my team and I celebrated International Women’s Day at the ‘Safer for Women Conference 2018’ at the Eden Project.

It was a pleasure to spend the day in the company of so many fantastic, inspirational women who have and continue to make a huge difference to the lives of women in Devon and Cornwall.

The Women’s Centre Cornwall, formerly Women’s Rape and Sexual Abuse Centre, hosted the conference to relaunch their new name reflecting the breadth of work they do and services they provide.

Over the last 20 years, the charity has been providing vital support to women and young girls in Cornwall who have experience sexual violence and/or domestic abuse.

It is estimated that approximately 15,000 women have used their services since they formally registered as a charity in 1996.  

Last December, I was invited to the Women’s Centre Cornwall to meet some of their dedicated team and witness first-hand the brilliant support they provide to victims and our local communities.

I was privileged to co-sponsor, speak and attend the ‘Safer for Women 2018’ conference.

During the day attendees heard presentations from national and international experts and listened to stories of victims of sexual harassment.

It highlighted how a multi-agency approach is required when responding to and dealing with incidents of domestic abuse and sexual violence and how we all, both as organisations and individuals, have our role to play.

It was also an important day to discuss the experiences of women in all aspects of the criminal justice system.

Although still underrepresented in senior roles, many women are influencing the way in which our criminal justice system works.

For example, Angie May has worked her way up through different roles in the court service and now heads the administration of the magistrates, crown, civil and family courts in Devon, Cornwall and Dorset.

In our prisons, Jeannine Hendrick, regional director for prisons in Devon, Cornwall and Dorset has recently been awarded an OBE for her services to prison safety and governance.

Bridie Oakes Richards works as part of Jeannine’s team as governor of HMP Dartmoor and does innovative work to keep inmates engaged and reduce offending after prison life.

According to the Ministry of Justice, in 2015 less than a third of police officers and the judiciary are women.

In an effort to change this statistic and celebrate International Women’s Day, Devon and Cornwall Police launched a campaign encouraging women to consider a career in the emergency services.

One of the many amazing women in our policing family is Superintendent Nikki Leaper. She has chaired the Women’s Network in Policing and won a national award for her efforts to transform the support for women in this traditionally male dominated world.

I am also very proud to be one of only six female Police and Crime Commissioners (PCC) in England and Wales out of a total of 40 PCCs and 3 mayors.  

Part of my role is to be a voice for those who are often unheard and don’t always know where or who to turn to when they are mistreated or exploited.

Nationally, only 4.5% of the prison population is female and a recent piece of Home Office funded work being led by my office on the criminal justice system has recently highlighted a lack of services for women offenders – something I passionately believe we need to change.  

Therefore since becoming chair of the local criminal justice board, I am making women offenders more of a priority.  

For example, I hope to work closely with the Ministry of Justice to secure a potential women’s community prison in our region as currently our nearest women’s prison is in Gloucestershire.

Having a support network is vital for the rehabilitation of offenders and the 160 miles or more between prison and home can make it difficult for offenders and their support system to stay connected.

Women offenders might be in the minority with their voices often overlooked but we are starting to change that.

It is important that we have women working within the criminal justice system to ensure that the voices of women don’t go unheard.

Anne Proctor, Assistant Chief Officer of the Community Rehabilitation Company works closely with my team on the transforming justice project and champions their voices.

Women are more likely to be victims of domestic abuse and sexual violence so services such as the Women’s Centre Cornwall play a vital role in helping them cope and recover.  

On International Women’s Day the Home Secretary, Amber Rudd, announced a Government consultation into the Domestic Abuse Bill.

This consultation is an opportunity to transform and improve the understanding of domestic abuse and to act quickly when abuse occurs.

It will also include the first statutory definition of domestic abuse.  Things never change in society until people are willing to put themselves and their ideas forward. 

I will be submitting a response to this consultation and I urge those who are passionate about the issue to do the same – or to let me have your views as I prepare my own response.

You can email my office at opcc@devonandcornwall.pnn.police.uk

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