A pioneering scheme to turn round the lives of women offenders and steer them away from a life of crime has been given a massive boost.
The £200,000 in funding to extend the project is testimony to the resounding early success of the Pathfinders Diversion scheme, according to North Wales Women’s Centre managing director Gemma Fox.
In North Wales the project, set up by Integrated Offender Management (IOM) Cymru, is run by the Rhyl-based Women’s Centre, and works with women from across Conwy, Denbighshire and Flintshire
Ms Fox said: “I’m delighted the Home Office has seen fit to extend this project until March 2017. We couldn’t have wished for better news. It’s a glowing tribute to the hard work all engaged parties have been putting in to achieve the Pathfinders goal of encouraging low risk women offenders to turn away from crime.”
The scheme is also backed by North Wales Police and Crime Commissioner Winston Roddick who said the funding boost to such a visionary scheme was great news for the public.
He said: “This project is one of the most positive steps in recent years to divert low risk women offenders away from lives of crime.
“Its continued support is vital and should be roundly welcomed not just by the bodies who will benefit from the new phase of funding but by the public in general.”
The philosophy behind Pathfinders Diversion is one of early intervention, to help potential offenders stay on an even keel by engaging women at risk and guiding them towards a range of alternative options to solve their problems.
Mr Roddick said: “Women from deprived or underprivileged backgrounds or who are facing what seem to be insurmountable problems can sometimes turn to crime out of sheer desperation. This scheme points them to more feasible long term ways to overcome their difficulties.
“By establishing a safety net of ongoing support, practically, socially and emotionally, women who may initially have considered criminal behaviour have been dissuaded from it because they know there is a system in place to help them. It is not just the women themselves that gain but society as a whole because if fewer crimes are being committed there are ultimately fewer victims.”
Until the latest announcement of additional funding, it was financed only until September this year. But such has been its success to date that an application for an extension of funds has been granted to safeguard the project until March 2017.
According to Ms Fox, the Pathfinders Diversion strategy finances part time case workers attending the custody suite at the divisional police HQ in St Asaph where they are alerted about the arrest of women offenders.
She added: “Not all such women are eligible to take part in the scheme. It is aimed at women with no previous convictions or women who have not reoffended within two years of a previous conviction. Most specifically it is aimed at women who are likely to benefit from the Pathfinder.
“These women are often at a very low ebb, they can have very complex lives with lots of emotional problems, financial struggles and sometimes young families to support. Sending them to court or prison does not resolve issues but merely adds to the burden.
“Under the Diversion strategy we aim to help them work things out, through practical interventions such as rehabilitation programmes for those with alcohol or substance misuse problems, and to support them to build a stable framework for helping them turn their lives around. The centre also hosts a monthly case conference where a woman’s case is presented to a variety of agencies who can contribute assistance.
“We will involve social workers, police, housing officers, probation workers, and specialist agencies, whoever may be able to help tackle the problems to take her life forward in a more positive direction.”
The scheme’s first trial in Wales was in Cardiff after which it was extended into other regions.
Rhyl-based North Wales Womens Centre tendered to run the Pathfinder Diversion scheme in North Wales after an application for additional funding was submitted to the government’s Police Innovation Fund by Gwent Police and the National Offender Management Service, along with North Wales, South Wales and Dyfed-Powys police authorities. The scheme is also supported by Newport Womens Aid, Safer Wales and the University of South Wales, among other bodies.
The bid was successful and the scheme awarded £202,987.
Gemma, who has worked for 16 years developing the North Wales Womens Centre, based in Water Street, Rhyl, said this was one of the most groundbreaking initiatives she has ever been involved with and she believes it has the potential to make a huge impact on the lives of at risk women and their families across the region.
Mr Roddick said Pathfinders Diversion complements the Police and Crime Plan for North Wales and he was confident that it was the right way forward for dealing with a majority of non-violent, non-habitual female offenders.
He said: “I believe it will bring positive outcomes for victims, families and the wider community, as well as the women offenders who sign up to take part.
“We said at the start that the project addresses not just crime, but the causes of crime and this extra level of funding will enable the dedicated case workers to do even more towards achieving that end.
“Even though I am not standing for re-election and will no longer be Commissioner when the review of the scheme is compiled I will remain very interested to know the results and look forward to witnessing the Pathfinder project continue to develop in North Wales.”
North Wales Womens Centre is a charity which relies on grants, donations and its own fundraising to finance its work supporting women across the region via training sessions, life skills workshops, as an information and advice portal, community outreach and social centre and a source of help for women suffering as a result of issues such as domestic abuse, poverty, loneliness or isolation.