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Partnership working proves vital way to keep Norfolk women out of criminal justice system

Vulnerable women in danger of entering the criminal justice system (CJS) are being given a helping hand to turn their lives around thanks to a strong partnership approach led by the Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner for Norfolk (OPCCN).

The OPCCN has played a lead role in ensuring vital support and services are in place in the county to ensure fewer women encounter the service or end up in custody leading to crime free, healthier lives.

It is hoped such a partnership approach between agencies across Norfolk will also improve provision for women who are already in custody and need access to the right help and services when returning to the outside.

Vicky Day, Head of Prevention and Rehabilitation, at the OPCCN and co-chair of the county’s Women in the Criminal Justice System Strategy Group, said: “We are really proud of the work we have been undertaking with partners across Norfolk to ensure vulnerable women in our community have the right access to help and support to see a better future for both themselves and their families.

“By working together in such a strategic way, we can make a big difference to the lives of these women and ultimately help to build healthier safer communities.”

The management of women in contact with the criminal justice system requires a joined-up approach that acknowledges the gender-specific needs of women, promotes positive wellbeing and supports successful long-term outcomes to reduce reoffending.  

As part of the Women in the CJS Strategy Group the OPCCN has been working with the Eastern Region National Probation Service and partners to create a ‘Norfolk Strategy’ to set out its approach in this area.

The strategy focuses on four key areas including; Early Intervention and Prevention, Courts and Sentencing, Custody and Resettlement and Community Sentences.

Examples of positive work carried out in this area during the last 12 months have included:

  • Securing funding to provide specialist trauma-informed training to professionals, including at Norfolk Police, the OPCCN, National Probation Service, Norfolk Youth Offending Team and Her Majesties Courts and Tribunal Services.  
  • Developing a framework tool to discover if women follow the correct journey in the CJS and to measure if they receive suitable rehabilitative support.
  • Funding of a ‘storybook project’ in HM Prisons Peterborough and Norwich which enables parents in prison to record bedtime stories and messages for their children. 

Vital funding has also recently been secured by the OPCCN to further fund the WONDER+ Project which aims to keep women out of custody. The WONDER project was launched by the OPCCN in 2017 as a one-year pilot to offer help and support to women being released from police custody facilities in two parts of the county.

The initiative has since evolved into the WONDER+ scheme, extending across Norfolk and beyond custody facilities and working with partners to address issues such as the impact of drugs on the lives of its clients. Thanks to funding from the OPCCN, Norfolk County Council Public Health and St Giles, WONDER+ is now set to be extended until 31 March 2023.

A special training event was also held in March with members of Norfolk’s Independent Custody Visiting Scheme team (ICVs).

ICVs are members of the local community who volunteer to visit Norfolk’s Police Investigation Centres (PICs), unannounced and in pairs, to check the treatment and welfare of detainees and deliver effective oversight to ensure a safe environment while providing public reassurance.

The county currently has 24 ICVs – who are managed by the OPCCN – a number of whom attended the March session alongside counterparts from Suffolk’s ICV Scheme, to widen their knowledge around the needs of women in the criminal justice system, in particular the early stages where they may find themselves in police custody.

The event was also a celebration of the WONDER+ Project and members heard from former WONDER client Charlotte, about how she had been helped by the scheme.

Simon Atherton, Independent Custody Visiting Scheme Manager at the OPCCN, said: “The event enabled our ICVs to explore the complexities of the challenges women face when they enter the criminal justice system.

"It helped them understand that in many cases, offending can be linked to a complex and chaotic domestic situation, often impacted by a history of childhood difficulties, poverty and in many cases abuse.

“It is hoped that the training will help with their interactions whilst visiting female detainees and help them understand the diversionary alternatives that get women’s lives back on track.”

Catherine Akhurst-Paige who co-chairs the county’s Women in the Criminal Justice System Strategy Group, with Vicky Day, added: "The event demonstrated the power of working in partnership with the OPCCN and St Giles Trust to support the ICV’s in gaining a greater insight into the complexities that many women in the criminal justice system experience.

"It was important for everyone that attended to further develop their understanding that when working with women, a gender specific, holistic, whole system approach is required to ensure that all vulnerabilities and complexities are considered and managed appropriately.

"By working in partnership with the members of the Norfolk Female Offender Strategy Group we have made a vital difference to women’s lives and have built safer communities for all."

Read the 'Norfolk Strategy' >>