Work to divert women with mental health problems from prison could be at risk if funding is lost from community services to help address their offending, an expert has warned.
Baroness Jean Corston said she was concerned that the coalition had given no indication that it intends to continuing funding specialist women’s centres to provide offenders with an alternative to prison.
The Labour peer, who wrote a high-profile report for the last government on supporting vulnerable female offenders, is to discuss the issue with ministers at the end of the month. She said it costs £70,000 a year to keep one woman in prison, compared with just £750 in a centre.
The network of centres is part of a £15.6m programme of support introduced by Labour to provide alternatives to prison for women, but funding is an issue for many.
Corston, who was speaking at an exhibition depicting female offenders’ experiences of the criminal justice system, said this could lead to increased reoffending that would affect the women’s children.
She said: “The women’s centres provide many offenders with their first real opportunity to address the root cause of their offending, and to take responsibility for their lives. They must receive the money they need to continue this important work.”
Similar concerns were raised by Linda Bryant, head of diversion and offender management services for the mental health charity Together, which organised the exhibition. Bryant feared there would be cuts next year to niche outreach groups that provide mental health support to help divert women away from prison.
“The problem with any cuts to community services is there’s a risk the packages won’t be possible because outreach services start to lose their funding and sometimes it’s the services run by these that suffer,” said Bryant.
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