Mental health charity Together has launched a new guide for criminal justice staff after identifying that the wellbeing needs of female inmates are frequently overlooked in UK prisons, putting them at greater risk of re-offending.
About 13,500 women are sent to prison each year, and research by Together suggests that more than half have severe mental illness and the same proportion have experienced domestic violence.
Building on advice in Baroness Corston's 2007 Review of women with particular vulnerabilities in the criminal justice system, Together has produced a guide that seeks to offer professionals the tools to recognise and respond to the complex and multiple wellbeing needs of women offenders.
Linda Bryant, manager of Together’s Criminal Justice services, said: "Together’s experience of working with women at court and within probation is that they are less likely to draw attention to their needs, often due to depression or anxiety or fear of the repercussions.
"We have to make sure we identify the health and wellbeing needs of these women – needs that are often significant factors in their offending – so that we can divert them to specialist community services equipped to support them. This must be done at the earliest possible point; before these needs escalate, before offending behaviour becomes engrained and before a revolving door cycle becomes inevitable."
The guide has been produced by the frontline forensic mental health practitioners who comprise Together’s Women’s Court Liaison and Outreach Service. It sets out practical guidance on spotting potential issues, as well as tools to refer women to specialist community-based support services that can improve their wellbeing and tackle offending.
Police and Crime Commissioner for Northumbria, Vera Baird QC, said: “The new Together guide shows why we must focus on the distinct, complex issues affecting women within the criminal justice system. Despite being in the small minority, their needs are often not met, especially when it comes to health and wellbeing.
"It is important that all partners come together to learn how we can address women-specific needs in the criminal justice system and to ensure that those who work on the front line have the expertise to recognise issues and just as importantly, to respond to them in a way which shows compassion.”
To download the guide go to www.together-uk.org/download-form/