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Female offenders coming into contact with the Criminal Justice System often have complex needs, yet they can be some of the most vulnerable and disadvantaged people in society. A project launched by Norfolk PCC Lorne Green is targeting female offenders with the aim of not only preventing crime, but also preventing vulnerable women from entering the Criminal Justice System.
In 2017, Norfolk was one of just four areas in the country to receive funding from the Ministry of Justice (MOJ) and Government Equalities Office to provide earlier and more effective support to women at risk of offending, with the aim of reducing the number of women entering the criminal justice system.
Having led on the funding bid, the Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner for Norfolk (OPCCN) developed a strategy for targeting the needs of women in the county, joining forces with partners to deliver the Women Offenders of Norfolk Diversion, Engagement and Rehabilitation Project, known as WONDER. The WONDER project is aimed at helping female offenders access the support they need to address the root causes of their offending behaviour; unemployment, money worries, trauma, abuse, mental health issues, drug or alcohol dependency – any one, or combination of these, can be a contributory factor.
The initial 12-month WONDER pilot worked with women coming into police custody in Wymondham and King’s Lynn, with dedicated support workers assessing individuals’ needs and working with them to develop a plan for accessing and receiving support. Having identified that existing support for Norfolk’s female offenders was concentrated in Norwich, the project put a particular focus on making support more accessible for women in rural areas.
In 2018, the OPCCN secured further funding from the MOJ, and worked with the St Giles Trust and Future Projects to deliver WONDER+, expanding the project throughout Norfolk and working across the whole Criminal Justice System.
Female offenders, and women at risk of offending, are referred to WONDER+ 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. St Giles Trust’s dedicated support workers meet with the women to assess their needs, agree a support plan and facilitate access to services.
Since it launched in 2018, WONDER+ has worked with 156 women. The areas of greatest need for these women relate to accommodation and mental health, with substance misuse and debt being other prevalent concerns. Through regular contact and mentoring, the workers keep track of the women’s progress in line with their support plan and set goals. 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.
It is too early in the project to claim that re-offending rates are lower as a result, but the women and their support workers are reporting positive changes in their wellbeing, living skills and relationships, as well as being able to manage strong feelings and use their time positively. This is bringing vital stability to the lives of these women as they work towards a crime-free future. Women nearing the end of their WONDER+ journey are now offering peer support to those taking their first steps onto the project.
“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)
“My client was referred to mental health services. I attended all of her appointments and home visits. My client was only too happy for me to be there, as she often struggled to remember details of her meetings. They kept me updated with any concerns they had regarding my client, and I did the same – which really helped with her support plan.” (WONDER link support worker)
“My client has successfully won back the care of her granddaughter. She has been completely sober since her arrest, attends weekly AA meetings and is returning to work very soon.” (WONDER link worker).
For more feedback from WONDER clients, visit St Giles Trust’s Soundcloud.
If you would like to know more about WONDER, please contact Vicky Day, the OPCCN’s Head of Prevention and Rehabilitation.
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