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Project supporting female offenders shortlisted for national award

A project supporting vulnerable women in Norfolk, with the aim of preventing crime and keeping them out of the criminal justice system, has been shortlisted for a national award.

Since 2018, a project launched by Norfolk’s Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) Lorne Green has been helping female offenders, and those at risk of committing crime, to address the root causes of offending behaviour. That project – known as WONDER – has now been shortlisted for a Community Award by the Howard League of Penal Reform.

The annual awards celebrate the country’s most successful community projects which encourage desistance from crime and keep people out of the criminal justice system by providing other proportionate, effective interventions to help reduce the risk of reoffending.

WONDER, developed by the Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner for Norfolk and delivered by St Giles Trust in partnership with Future Projects, is one of eight initiatives vying for a Community Award in the ‘Women’ category.

Since its launch, WONDER has worked with 156 women, referred to the project through community policing, police custody, multi-agency early help hubs, health services, victim services and other help and support networks for vulnerable women. A number of women have also self-referred to the project, having heard about it through housing providers, job centres or foodbanks.

“From day one, my link worker has been my rock. She always listened and never judged me. Before I met her, I was a mess and giving up on life. Now, because of everything she has done for me, I have become the best person I can be and I can’t thank her enough.” (WONDER client)

St Giles Trust’s dedicated support workers meet with the women to assess their needs, agree a support plan and facilitate access to services.  Through regular contact and mentoring, the workers keep track of the women’s progress in line with their support plan and set goals.

PCC Lorne Green said: “If we want to reduce offending, and vulnerability to offending, then we have to identify and address the issues that lead people onto a path of criminal behaviour. Unemployment, money worries, trauma, abuse, mental health issues, drug or alcohol dependency – any one, or combination of these, can be a contributory factor.

“Through WONDER we’re making sure that, here in Norfolk, vulnerable women, those with complex needs and, in some cases, extremely chaotic lives, have access to the help and support they need to address the root causes and consequences of what they’re doing.

“156 women were supported by St Giles Trust’s link support workers last year and, while it is too early in the project to claim that reoffending rates are lower as a result, the women and their support workers are reporting positive changes in their wellbeing, living skills and relationships. Many of the women being supported have also been victims of crime, such as domestic or sexual abuse, so the project is also helping to prevent further harm and victimisation.”

He added: “WONDER is bringing vital stability to the lives of these women as they work towards a crime-free future. And we’re now seeing women who are nearing the end of their own WONDER journey offering peer support to those taking their first steps onto the project.”

Nicky Park, Head of Prison and Women's Services at St Giles Trust said: “We are delighted that WONDER has been shortlisted for this important award as it recognises the immense value it brings.

“By helping vulnerable women address the underlying issues which might be trapping them in the criminal justice system we can help stabilise their situations, reduce their offending and help them move towards independence.”

Daniel Childerhouse, Chief Executive Officer of Future Projects said: “The WONDER project has been an incredible success. There is a truly collaborative approach to this work, with the funders, delivery partners and wider agencies across Norfolk coming together to ensure that our Link Workers can reach the most vulnerable and marginalised women who may be at risk of offending.

“Without this crucial and personalised support many of those women would likely fall back into crisis and ultimately the criminal justice system. I am incredibly proud that Future Projects is involved in this inspiring project which is changing lives.”