We spoke to Claire Jones – Assistant Chief Probation Officer at Kent, Surrey and Sussex CRC – about the work they are doing with women. Whilst she acknowledged that their work concerning women “isn’t necessarily ground-breaking”, she said it was very much needed. In May 2018 a new strategy was launched concerning female offenders in the criminal justice system. It was developed with partners who work with the female service users and know their experience. It was based on research and also inspections and reports.
Claire went on to say that contractually CRCs only have to provide the basics in terms of provisions for the female offenders but research clearly demonstrates that women have complex needs and the basics are insufficient. They need support and holistic responses as usually their interaction with the criminal justice system is the “tip of an iceberg” of wider issues.
This new strategy ensures that they have specially trained officers who are trained in trauma-informed approaches who work with the women. The model of the strategy itself varies across different counties and is to do with the different needs that the area may have. It is also in part because different counties have different resources. They work primarily in Brighton and Woking’s women’s centres.
Claire said that Sussex already have a very well established women’s services and do a great deal of work in that area including the whole system approach which has been adopted in Brighton, although the CRC’s work is unrelated to this. She also said that there is a breakfast club in Crawley that is given funding from the PCC and they partner with a local church – it is a real opportunity to engage with the women and interact with them in a safe and comfortable space.
Sentenced and sentencing women
The focus of their strategy is solely on women who have already been sentenced by the court. A key part of their work under this strategy is to try and impact and influence sentencers and the sentences given to women with the hope that the context and their complex needs will be understood. For example, avoiding custodial sentences because they have families. Claire said that they hope for “more responsible sentencing”. She acknowledged that CRCs having an influence over sentencing and being able to support women in this respect has been a “major uphill struggle”.
Claire believes that not all magistrates and judges are sufficiently trained to understand the complex needs of women. She said that the problem-solving courts in Manchester or specialist women’s courts would be a good solution to this whilst acknowledging that more has to be done to help women who are going through the criminal justice system. However, she admits that the CRCs have little influence over creating wider change in this area but firmly believes there needs to be better and more appropriate provisions in place.
They work out of the women’s centres in Brighton and Woking but there is not one available in Kent. For the latter, they have provisions to try and make up for that such as women’s only reporting times and creating an office space and atmosphere that becomes a women’s safe space.
They have a ‘believe and succeed programme’ that she believes has been a highlight of their work thus far. Across all counties this is a core offer and will be part of the sentence. It comprises six sessions and is strength-based. It incorporates different aspects of other women’s programmes that have worked well and is responsive to the needs of women.
Funding for their work comes from core CRC funding and there is no additional funding within the budget for women’s work. Claire finds this challenging because a lack of funding limits the scope of what work can be done. Funding is also difficult for the women’s centres where their work depends entirely on ensuring they can source funding and renew it annually.
Claire said that pressure can come from the expectation that “probation is everything for everyone” but they can only do this kind of work if they develop good partnerships with specialist services. Working closely with partners is important.
Claire is proud of their work and believes that as a CRC they have done well in developing this women’s strategy, especially as they are the first. She said the next part of the strategy is to develop a place in Kent but cost is an obstacle.
Claire again referenced sentencing when discussing the biggest challenges concerning the UK’s justice system, there needs to be definite improvements and developments in that area. She also believes that real work needs to be done to tackle the criminalisation of women so early on in their interaction with the justice system.
Funding is another issue – women have complex needs and struggles that require specialised attention but this requires resources. She feels that there is inadequate funding across the board and that this shows. Claire went on to say that partnership work is fantastic but can also be challenging because work can become siloed as it is all dependent on funding and sustaining partnerships so projects can start, but that partners may then come and go. Likewise, the longevity of these projects or the possibility for work to become embedded is not guaranteed.
She also made the admission that the occasional negative perception of CRCs can have an impact on how different organisations/groups work with them and approach them. It is difficult to have a voice as a CRC because they cannot participate in court proceedings so a good relationship with NPS is vital to ensure work goes well. Claire said that good work relies on good communication but that has not always been consistent between NPS and CRCs.
Another initiative that interests Claire is a new intervention that focuses on stalking, based on American research and therapy work which is a response to the fact that “prevalence [of stalking] has significantly increased”. See this case study for more information.
If you want to find out more about Claire’s work, you can contract her via Claire.Jones@ksscrc.co.uk
This case study was compiled and edited by Jaskirat Mann in 2018