Because the Westcountry’s nearest women’s prison is Eastwood Park in Gloucestershire women in the region who receive custodial sentences face being incarcerated up to 200 miles away from their loved ones and the support networks they need to get their lives back on track.
Investigative work by the Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner for Devon and Cornwall found that there were not sufficient gender specific services available in parts of the region. A total of 85% of female offenders in Devon and Cornwall were found to have experienced domestic abuse or sexual violence. Many had drug or alcohol addictions.
Short sentences for women mean they are often being separated from their children, leading to more disruption for troubled families.
The Ministry of Justice funding will pay for a 17-month pilot project to an alliance which was formed by the OPCC. It includes Resilient Women, CoLab (Exeter), Sunflower Women’s Centre (Plymouth) and Women’s Centre Cornwall.
The cash will pay for Outreach Support Workers who can provide support to women who are unable to access local services to help them to lead a crime-free life. Vitally the support workers will follow the women through the system to provide a continuity of care that was previously lacking.
Devon and Cornwall Police and Crime Commissioner Alison Hernandez said: “Much of the work of my office is not only focussed on policing but on the causes of crime.
“In Devon and Cornwall we have a problem in that the nearest women’s prison is so far away from much of the region.
“Prison has to be a last resort option for our women offenders because rehabilitation and reducing offending only happens when offenders are well connected with their family and community. Children suffer the most and we have been seeking better ways to help alleviate this.
“I’m grateful that the Government recognises the importance of our isolated women within the South West by funding these schemes and I’d like to thank all of those who have worked on this successful bid.”
The funding was part of £3.3m awarded to 12 organisations in the first phase of community services investment. The investment will also enable Sunflower Women’s Centre to move to more suitable premises.
The funding follows the publication of the Female Offender Strategy, which set out a range of measures aimed at shifting focus away from custody towards rehabilitative community services.
Justice Minister Edward Argar said: “I am delighted to announce the allocation of the first wave of funding and hope it will pave the way for vulnerable women across the country to receive the additional specialist support they need.
“Evidence shows short sentences often fail to break the cycle of reoffending and we have set out clearly in our strategy a desire to divert women away from custody wherever possible.
“This investment is a vital first step in achieving this aim, and expanding these essential services will help break the cycle of offending and prevent further victims.”
The funding recognises that while serious crimes will always be punished proportionally, a large number of female offenders are in extremely vulnerable positions.