Last Updated: 20/05/2022
Women suffering with issues such as addiction and trauma are set to benefit from a pioneering new centre designed to tackle the root causes of low-level female offending.
The 12-bed Residential Women’s Centre in Swansea will open its doors in 2024 for around 50 offenders a year who would have otherwise been handed a prison sentence of 12 months or less.
The £10 million centre is a key part of the Government’s plan to minimise the number of women sent to prison in England and Wales.
It is specifically designed to address the fact that many women who commit low-level crimes, such as shoplifting, and minor drug and alcohol-fuelled crimes, are driven by underlying and complex factors. Statistics show more than 60 per cent of women in custody have reported experience of domestic abuse, up to a third have been victims of sexual assault, and 50 per cent have drugs misuse needs.
Female offenders at the centre will receive one-to-one mental health therapy, counselling to address their trauma from previous abuse and support to overcome addictions. The service will also provide longer-term support for women to help them find a job and maintain family relationships as they transition from the centre to life back in their communities, to help prevent re-offending.
The centre will be run by the Probation Service and during their stay, offenders must agree to work with the staff and comply with the no alcohol or illegal drugs policy.
Prisons Minister Victoria Atkins said:
“We want to drive down the number of women who are sent to prison for short sentences and help them to break the cycle of offending. In order to truly achieve that, we need to tackle the complex factors which often underpin their behaviour.
“This centre is designed to address those underlying issues head on, while allowing the women to stay close to their home and crucial support networks which play a key role in reducing reoffending.”
Only offenders from the local community will stay at the centre. They will live there for up to 12 weeks as part of a community sentence, so they can maintain contact with their families and children. Female offenders who are not required to stay in the residential unit as part of their sentence will also be able to benefit from community services provided by the centre.
The site will now be subject to planning permission but once opened, the centre will run as a pilot for five years, bolstered by at least £10 million of government funding.
Danielle John, 40, from South Wales, spent time in prison for shoplifting offences to fund a drug addiction, after difficult childhood and domestic abuse in her early adult life. She now works for the St Giles Trust as a peer mentor for others now in the criminal justice system.
“I know first-hand how addiction, domestic abuse and childhood trauma can lead you down a path of destruction and a prison sentence.
“Through the support I got for my mental health and help in getting the skills I needed to believe I had a future, I’m four years clean, studying at university and have a job I’m passionate about.
“A Residential Women’s Centre will give women in the justice system the support they need to tackle trauma head-on and turn their backs on crime for good.”
The centre is a key component of the Female Offender Strategy, launched in 2018 to divert vulnerable women away from crime and reduce reoffending. The purchase of the site in Swansea follows detailed work with organisations who work closely with women in the justice system, including South Wales Police, the Women’s Justice Blueprint Wales, Future 4 Consortium, Welsh Women’s Aid and The Revolving Doors Agency.
Welsh Government Minister for Social Justice, Jane Hutt said:
“The establishment of the first Residential Women’s Centre in Wales is a major step forward, providing a more rounded approach to delivering services for women, who find themselves involved in the criminal justice system in Wales.
"It will provide women with the support and services they need to live healthy, crime-free lives, whilst keeping them closer to their own community. Ultimately, it shows what we can achieve when we work together to provide the services people need to change their futures.”
Julie James, Member of the Senedd for Swansea West said:
“I am extremely pleased that the first residential centre in Wales will be situated in Swansea, providing local women with a safe and secure facility that is fit for purpose, allowing them to maintain contact with their families, particularly children.
“Colleagues within Welsh Government have pressed hard for a women’s residential centre to be situated in Wales and it is positive news for our communities that the plans have now been confirmed. The residential centre is a key element within the Women’s Justice Blueprint, which sets out the ambition to accelerate the transformation of services to create a fairer, more equal society with better outcomes and justice for all.
“Many women offenders are victims of crime themselves, often having experienced physical or emotional abuse, so the ability of a dedicated facility to promote positive wellbeing and support successful long-term outcomes to reduce reoffending is welcome news.”
The South Wales Deputy Police & Crime Commissioner and Women’s Justice Blueprint Project Senior Responsible Officer, Emma Wools said:
“As the Senior Responsible Officer for the Women’s Justice Blueprint, we have long recognised the need to establish trauma-informed alternatives to custodial sentences, especially for women, given the distinct vulnerabilities which often drive contact with Criminal Justice System.
“The announcement today marks a significant step in our ambition here in Wales to provide a more holistic approach to delivering services for women who find themselves involved in the criminal justice system.
“The residential centre in Swansea will not only enable women from the local area to rehabilitate, whilst remaining close to their families but also provide support to women to maintain existing tenancies, if they already have stable accommodation. In addition, the centre will provide an opportunity for women to bring their children to live with them and, where that may not be possible, provide a safe space for family members to visit.”
Welcoming the announcement of the Residential Women’s Centre in Swansea, South Wales Police & Crime Commissioner Alun Michael commented:
“In South Wales we have shown that it pays to tackle offending through early intervention and prevention and that in the case of many women it pays to provide help and support to tackle the circumstances which leads to the offending. This residential centre in Swansea will enable us to build on some of the very effective joint work that we have already pioneered - such as the Women’s Pathfinder Approach – which cuts future crime and harm by understanding their root causes and tackling them together.
“It is yet another demonstration of the value of co-operation, proving that we can achieve more together than we can achieve alone. Very often the offer of help and supportive structures leads to well-being and the recovery of a positive approach to life which in turn prevents future offending, so it’s good for the community, the family and the individual
“This development will meet the ambition that is clearly set out in the Women’s Justice Blueprint. Together we want to ensure that women are able to turn their lives around instead of being drawn deeper into the Criminal Justice System.”
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