A pioneering scheme to help women steer clear of crime has won praise in the House of Commons.
The acknowledgement of the “outstanding” work done by the North Wales Women Centre went on official records after Vale of Clwyd MP Dr James Davies urged the Prisons, Probation, Rehabilitation and Sentencing Minister Andrew Selous to back schemes aimed at reducing the number of women sent to prison.
In North Wales the Pathfinder project, set up by Integrated Offender Management (IOM) Cymru, is run by the Women’s Centre, and works with women from across Conwy, Denbighshire and Flintshire
Chief executive Gemma Fox said she was delighted its years of work had been highlighted at a committee of MPs debating the issue of prisons.
The parliamentary plaudit comes only weeks after the Rhyl based centre was commended by North Wales Police and Crime Commissioner Winston Roddick for its pioneering work with Pathfinders Diversion, a revolutionary project diverting low risk women offenders away from lives of crime via early intervention.
Mr Roddick said the centre is a linchpin of the project which funds a team of part time case workers attending the custody suite at St Asaph police station where they are alerted about the arrest of low-risk women offenders.
The case workers subsequently provide a network of practical, educational, emotional and social support for the women, as an alternative to prison sentences. This includes guidance on domestic and work issues, debt counselling, help with child care issues, job seeking and enrolment on rehabilitation programmes when there are issues of drink or substance abuse.
On hearing of the parliamentary praise for the centre Mr Roddick said the recognition of the valuable work the centre carries out was richly deserved.
He said: “This dedicated organization has long been a driving force behind moves to dissuade the justice system from sending so many women to prison for low-risk offences.
“This is a cause worth fighting for and one which I wholeheartedly support. I am pleased to see that the changes to the justice system which they have long been campaigning for are reaching the ears of government ministers.”
Mr Selous told the parliamentary committee he was grateful to conservative MP Dr Davies for drawing the public’s attention to the North Wales Womens Centre, adding: “I commend it for what it does. The Government are committed to supporting vulnerable women to turn their lives around, and we plan to expand that important work.”
Gemma said she hoped the minister would now follow through his praise with positive action to divert women away from prison sentences.
She said: “Imprisonment only compounds the problems that these women in hardship face and does not resolve any issues. Our philosophy is one of early intervention to help divert them away from criminal behaviour and provide them with the support they need to go forward with their lives.”
She said Dr Davies had been a staunch supporter of the Pathfinders Diversion scheme and other work by the North Wales Women Centre.
In parliament the MP told Mr Selous that the centre offers vital ‘holistic support’ to women offenders in line with the recommendations made in a 2007 report by Baroness Corston reviewing the treatment of women with particular vulnerabilities by the criminal justice system.
Dr Davies asked of Mr Selous: “Will he join me in urging the Government to pursue improved provision and rehabilitation for women offenders to help to avoid the cost and family disruption of incarceration for relatively minor offences?”
Gemma, who is based in Rhyl, said the question was particularly timely as the Womens Centre is currently facing a funding crisis.
She said: “We certainly need to keep our public profile high at the moment.”