A Ministry of Justice-funded study has found “considerable anxiety” among staff over the end of government funding next year for the Together Women project to stop women offending.
The early-stage study found service users felt they had benefited from the project, which provides a range of services for women who have offended and those at risk of offending, including parenting training and managing mental health.
Together Women began operating in five centres in the North West and Yorkshire and Humberside in late 2006 and early 2007, backed by £9.15m in government funding. In her landmark government-commissioned March 2007 report on vulnerable women in the criminal justice system, Baroness Corston called for “much more funding to be made available immediately” to extend the scheme nationwide.
But with funding due to run out next year, both staff and stakeholders from statutory agencies expressed “considerable anxiety” about the project’s future, researchers found.
Vital to move past pilots
Juliet Lyon, director of the Prison Reform Trust, said: “It is vital now to move past pilots and demonstration projects into developing a full scale network of support and supervision centres for women across England and Wales.
“Government policy has been consistent since 2001 that the best way to reduce women’s offending is to enable women in trouble to quit addictions to drugs and drink, gain access to mental healthcare, get out of debt, receive parenting support, settle in stable accommodation and gain skills and employment but practical implementation of these reforms, and the resources needed to underpin them, has lagged woefully behind.”
Researchers said service users valued the women only environment of Together Women and most felt more optimistic about their chances of dealing with their problems after several months’ contact with the programme.
Need for further research
However, they said the study, conducted in the project’s first year, came too soon to adequately assess its impact, and called for a further study to be carried out.
For instance, they struggled to measure Together Women’s success in preventing ‘at risk’ women from going to prison, because they could not create a comparable group of women who had similar needs but were not offered support.
Questions of whether women should be compelled to take up services also remained unresolved, the report said.