A scheme to help women offenders stay out of trouble with the law has been hailed as a “shining example” after just one out of the 29 taking part had been rearrested.
North Wales Police and Crime Commissioner Arfon Jones was told about the remarkable success of the pioneering Pathfinder Diversion project during a visit to the North Wales Women’s Centre from where it is run.
The scheme is aimed at women who commit crime or who are at risk of doing so and works with women in Conwy, Denbighshire and Flintshire.
Earlier this year it was announced the all Wales project was being extended after receiving an extra £200,000 in funding to extend the project set up last October by Integrated Offender Management (IOM) Cymru.
According to Mr Jones, the idea was proving to be an effective way of steering women away from crime.
He said: “The Pathfinder scheme is a shining example to the rest of England and Wales.
“There is clear evidence the new approach is effective – 27 of those referred by police engaged with scheme and nine cases are now closed because the women concerned completed the course. Meanwhile, only one woman has been re-arrested since and another had not complied with the conditions.
“The majority of women who offend are not violent and most are convicted of an acquisitive crime which tells a story, often involving real deprivation, poverty and issues like domestic abuse.
“For the majority of women, incarceration is certainly not the answer. There is a huge cost to society – it just doesn’t make economic sense at all.
“In North Wales the majority of women are actually in for very short sentences, usually under 12 weeks but it can cause incalculable damage to the women concerned and their families.
“Only five per cent of children remain in their own homes when their mums go into prison.
“It costs way over £60,000 a year to have a child in care but the emotional toll it takes can blight their future lives.
“The right thing to do with the majority of these women is to support them in the community to tackle the problems that are causing them to offend.”
North Wales Women’s Centre managing director Gemma Fox explained two of their staff were based at the police custody suite in St Asaph where suitable candidates, usually first time offenders, are referred to the scheme.
Ms Fox said: “The problems are the kind of problems that we’re used to dealing with here every day, which are issued around accommodation, health, drug and alcohol misuse, domestic abuse being a key issue.
“It’s the professional judgement of the police who decide that these women with a little bit of help probably could be diverted from getting into further trouble.
“The idea is that we work with them to help them sort out their problems and basically turn their lives around, and try to get them to live happier lives.
“In cases where there is a history of domestic abuse, we would prioritise her needs, and we would need to look at the safety of her and her family.
“It might be that she needs refuge in which case we work with other agencies who specialise in that. She could also have an alcohol or substance misuse issue which may have been a coping mechanism for the with domestic abuse. She may be homeless because of the domestic abuse.
“It can involve a whole network of issues that often interrelate. This is why it’s never a one size fits all, and we may not even be the experts to deliver the intervention, but we can signpost them and handhold them through that intervention as well.
“The idea is to give them the opportunity to change their lives and to empower them so it’s them choosing to change, not us.”
It was a message echoed by Supt Jane Banham, head of community safety and custody at North Wales Police.
She said: “Female offenders often have multiple, complex problems which contribute to their offending.
“They are more likely to suffer from anxiety and depression than men, to self-harm, to have eating disorders and have mental illness.
“We know women are more likely to be primary carers of children and in some cases single parents. There are also significant differences between men and women’s patterns of offending.”
“At the same time, women are more likely to commit acquisitive crimes such as theft and shoplifting but are less likely to commit serious and violent crimes. And women who offend are more likely to be victims of crime themselves such as domestic violence and abuse, sexual abuse and exploitation and human trafficking.
“Women are also more likely than men to have a drug addiction to heroin or crack cocaine and be addicted to prescription drugs.
“If the underlying circumstances to women and men’s offending are different then it is critical a different approach is taken to meet the needs of women in order to break the cycle of offending as one size does not fit all.
“I fully support any scheme that aims to divert women away from custody and reduce their reoffending by providing them with a whole package of support and intervention at the earliest opportunity.
“I am pleased that North Wales Police are working in partnership with the North Wales Women’s Centre to help improve outcomes for women , their families, victims and the community.”