Message to the Ministers: Please don’t look the other way

In December 2015, Women’s Breakout was a signatory in a letter to Michael Gove that set out concerns about women involved in the criminal justice system in respect of Women’s Community Services under the Transforming Rehabilitation programme and the closure of Holloway.

On 25 May 2016, the sixteen signatories were invited to meet with Caroline Dinenage (Minister responsible for women offenders), and Andrew Selous (Minister for Prisons, Probation and Rehabilitation) to discuss support and services provided to women offenders by Community Rehabilitation Companies and the voluntary sector.

The Ministers introduced the meeting as a ‘listening session’. Caroline Dinenage said that it is very early days and she has met with all of the CRCs to stress that women remain a cornerstone of what they do and she will have no hesitation in reinforcing that message. Andrew Selous said that TR is a huge change, and ‘end state realisation’ was not anticipated until February 2017. It will take time to get changes to the qualitative level but they are employing very rigorous contract management and this is paying dividends. However, they are acutely aware that they are not yet at the levels they want to be, but they hugely value the role of the voluntary sector and want to be a good partner.

Over to the voluntary sector – and this is what we said (with thanks to those of you who sent me updates before the meeting):

  • We want to help to find good ways of working under the new arrangements but the experience on the ground indicates that currently things are not going too well.
  • Women’s community services providers are expert in working with vulnerable women and we do not want to lose the expertise. This will be central to the whole system approach being successfully delivered, and they are well placed to provide services for women referred through the National Probation Service.
  • We appreciate that CRCs have been struggling though this year with their financial envelopes, referrals, data etc, and that women are a small cohort; but at the moment, there is no evidence that any CRCs are doing this well.
  • The holistic service, the distinct approach, with a relationship with a key worker, is pretty much universally accepted as the service that works for women; but without exception this is not the service that is being bought by CRCs. In the main we are seeing group work, signposting, mentoring, rigid programmes/courses, services that do not take into account the needs of the women, and payment for direct contact time only – and we are concerned that when the contract is monitored the holistic service will already be lost.
  • The financial envelope available for vulnerable women in each CRC is very much reduced from the £1,000 – £1,500 that is realistic for a gold standard service for women with complex needs. There is often a requirement for organisations to cover a much wider geographical area than previously; and centres are bringing in additional funding to bridge the shortfall but there is a feeling of being taken advantage of.
  • It was anticipated that TR would bring longer term contract security than the year to year arrangements that had been in place, but there is uncertainty within the current contract arrangements eg a three year contract with the contract value fixed for the first year only, clawback of a portion of the contract value at the end of the financial year, forward contract values reducing, alterations to contracts with little or no negotiation.
  • Contracts rolled on through 2015/16 but with late notification, and some staff have become demotivated and worried and have left the services. Contract negotiations have been protracted, painful and expensive, contract values reduced through the negotiation period, and goal posts kept changing. In some areas, the case load per key worker has doubled and is unsustainable. There is a feeling that on the ground delivery is being neglected at the expense of contract management and a focus on detail, and there have been frequent changes to the monitoring forms.
  • In the wider sector there are voluntary and community sector organisations that don’t have contracts with CRCs (and don’t want contracts with the CRCs). They now have less access to women ‘through the gate’ because of CRC arrangements in prisons. The CRCs and prison staff need to know of the ‘offer’ from organisations and some headway is being made.
  • Has the MoJ conducted an analysis of how the CRC strategies for women link to the services they are commissioning? On a cursory look at this it would appear that the strategies tend to say the right thing but do not follow through to what the CRCs are commissioning.
  • Recall of women is a concern and this means that workers are working twice with women. Women are not aware of the changes that mean they need to report, recalls are getting higher (effectively doubled in quarter four). Women need appropriate support to ensure they understand and comply and the women centre model is perfect for these women.
  • We are spending more money to put women into prison where there are perfectly good services available – this means we are losing resources and this is counter intuitive. Early intervention is much more cost effective.
  • Housing is a major issue that impacts significantly on the rehabilitation of female offenders.
  • Some negative impacts are emerging in some organisations:
    • co-located staff are leaving some of the centres
    • centres are not able to do the same level of safeguarding
    • the responsible officer role has been a problem for some voluntary organisations
    • some specialist services from Holloway have not yet been transferred
    • in some places referrals are drying up as CRCs are in chaos; in other areas there are lots of referrals for cases that wouldn’t previously have been referred.
    • organisations have to work very hard to get drug and alcohol services into their centres. In one area there is a wait of 6-8 weeks to get a referral to drug and alcohol services. It was suggested that there could be a fund like there has been for drug services through PHE.
  • One major centre has walked away from the contract. Other organisations are also withdrawing and one organisation has served a termination of the contract on the CRC.
  • The developing Social Impact Bond is a whole system approach, but it is challenging and time consuming to get the commissioners on board and some help in this direction would be helpful. This would align social investment with the women’s services providers, and with commissioners from PCC/CSP, Health, Children’s Services and Housing to provide services for vulnerable women.

It was a good meeting, and yes it was a listening session, however Caroline Dinenage did respond to the immediate barriers of access to prisons and has promised to help with access. She also announced that the fund to stimulate/encourage the whole system approach now had £1 million over five years for further pilots.

And now we need to wait and see if there is anything more that will be done following TR to protect services for vulnerable women who have offended. But one thing is clear, as William Wilberforce said: ‘You may choose to look the other way but you can never say again that you did not know.’

Jackie Russell, Director of Women’s Breakout

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