The WONDER Project

East of England, Women, Diversion

We spoke to Vicky Day, Head of Prevention and Rehabilitation at Norfolk’s Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner (OPCC), about the WONDER project in Norfolk. A pilot was launched for a 12 month period from February 2017. It started out initially with two police investigation centres, one in a rural area of the county, Kingslynn, and the other in an urban area, Wymondham. The project sought to divert women eligible to take part in the project from these police custody facilities. The women participating in WONDER were those who receive a conditional caution or those who voluntarily refer themselves on to the project.

Tailored support

All women taking part met with a project link worker, who worked with them to assess their individual needs and develop a support and development plan for addressing those needs. The link worker mentored and supported each woman to help them access and receive tailored support, following their progress. The project put a particular focus on making support more accessible for women in rural areas.

For those women accessing WONDER with a conditional caution, if they follow their support and development plan, the caution will be completed; if not, then the police will take further action.

Impact and growth

Towards the end of the pilot, the OPCC applied for funding again and were granted funding for another three years of the project. Following the first year pilot, the scheme had attracted interest from local partners and as a result more funding partners joined and those who were involved grew. Key funding partners are: the Ministry of Justice, Norfolk Public Health, Norfolk OPCC, and Sodexo CRC for Norfolk and Suffolk.

Vicky said that the results from the pilots had been positive and encouraging. They found that women who were coming into contact with the criminal justice system had many complex needs that needed to be addressed. The project could meet these needs and indeed, in those earlier stages, it was clear that it was doing that.

Vicky also said that the results showed that women who stayed on the scheme longer did better and that re-arrest rates were much lower (the data for the project has yet to be processed and therefore whether or not reoffending rates are lower is yet to be known).

As a result of the success of the initial pilot and the additional funding, the scale of the project has increased and it covers a greater geographical scope with more areas being covered across the county. They were responsive to the needs and feedback of the women who had partaken in the scheme, recognising that many women wanted involvement earlier than just point of arrest and that was something they incorporated in to developments from the pilot with early involvement having focus too.

The project is to be independently evaluated by an experienced organisation who are familiar with the criminal justice system and familiar with the type of clients and service users that the project targets and that is a key aspect of these evaluators – they know the service user and focus on that.

Building relationships

Vicky explained that key to the project success was a very clear and transparent tendering process and procurement of who would be delivering the project. It is now led by St Giles Trust but that there is heavy involvement from the constabulary and the PCC who drive and manage it. It is very much a partnership rather than a charity-driven scheme. A multi-agency approach is needed and allows for multiple referral points and a truly holistic approach.

With regards to this multi-agency and collaborative approach in the delivery of the project, Vicky stresses that there is, and needs to be, a ‘single-point of contact’ with the client. There needs to be consistency in the support and interaction with service users even though it is multi-agency and support is holistic. It is about building a relationship and rapport with the client and offering them the right support. There are paid link staff members but also volunteers who contribute to the project.

Learning and sharing 

Vicky explained that evidence base generated from the initial the pilot where they tested the project meant they were able to learn from it and see what did and didn’t work. It was the women who were involved in the scheme who really provided the information they needed. They also utilised and based work on the statistics and data from the Ministry of Justice, looking at both a broader national picture but also Norfolk specifically. The data they observed focused on re-arrest rates, the lack of community disposable usage, the prison population, and the number of women being sentenced to short custodial sentences.

Vicky acknowledged that there are great practices happening across the country that are admirable. For example, the Women’s Support Alliance (WSA) adopted and being rolled out in Greater Manchester. Vicky described Manchester as a “test bed” whose research and learning they employed when developing and implementing WONDER in Norfolk. She praised their work and acknowledged it. However, she says that different models need to be adapted to their localities, so the model used in Manchester and how it works there may not necessarily work in Norfolk. In Manchester they have a number of women’s centres (compared to Norfolk’s one) that they can utilise and that people can access, whereas, Vicky explains, Norfolk is, “geographically challenged” when it comes to delivering projects in comparison to its counterparts – the mixture of urban and rural areas can present challenges. It can take several hours to travel from one end of the county to the other.

Women above the age of 18 are really impacted by their interaction with the criminal justice system – many are prosecuted and held in custody for low-level/small offences. They have found that women are more likely to report mental health issues and be at risk from self-harm or suicide whilst in custody. Many of the women they come into contact with in Norfolk have often suffered some kind of abuse throughout their lives or at one point in their lives or have been witness to abuse, especially whilst growing up.

Plans for the future

At the time of writing, Vicky said that women in Norfolk are “negatively bucking the trend” as the numbers of women in prisons in Norfolk is gradually increasing – especially in circumstances where the woman has been violent towards a partner in a situation where the woman is abused. They are also imprisoned for low-level offending including things like theft or not paying their TV licence. The number of women in prison, in Norfolk, is 52% higher than the national average. The number of men in prison in Norfolk is reducing, however.

Vicky suggests that a lot of work does need to be done in Norfolk, for example looking at certain aspects such as multiple diversionary points, having more alternatives to sentencing such as community orders, improved pre-sentencing advice and ensuring that all partners working with and within the justice system need to be thoroughly trained. Training is a definite area of improvement.

With regards to the future of WONDER, they need to ensure that there is more community provision for these women with complex needs. It is not just about cutting the number of people in prison and simply reducing offending rates.

Vicky hopes that Norfolk will provide a pilot area for a women’s residential scheme, they are “trying to be a bit more visionary” in thinking of how to see change and offer support for those complex needs. She referenced the Liaison and Diversion Schemes happening across the country stating that “health has to be involved” in addressing some of these issues. Health services should be integrated into the WSA because it is relevant to addressing the complex issues women face. Vicky also emphasised that cohesion and communication between all relevant government departments is needed.

If you want to find out more about Vicky’s work, you can contract her via Vicky.day@norfolk.pnn.police.uk

This case study was compiled and edited by Jaskirat Mann in 2018.