I have recently contacted the Re-Unite projects to undertake a stocktake as to where the projects are now. It was great to speak to staff within the projects and I am blown away with the passion and hard work that womens’ centres and projects are providing women in the criminal Justice system, particularly at this time of major economic and social change.
Housing was a key issue for most projects given the increasing shortage of affordable social housing and naturally funding is a key issue. One project in Birmingham had managed to maintain an effective partnership with a housing provider to access family accommodation, as well as getting capital money to build a 6 bed hostel to provide holistic support to women on their release from prison.
Most projects were able to deliver their support to women in the criminal justice system through a network of women’s centres and groups throughout their catchment areas. Most of these women’s centres and groups had diverse funding streams providing some protection in these difficult fiscal times.
The projects have developed good reputations over a period of time and worked on developing their multi agency partnerships. One project in Great Manchester had an agreement with their local mental health service to provide fast track mental health assessments for the 12 women with complex needs living in their specialist housing project. Another project has managed to get a solicitor to provide general legal advice drop in sessions for women.
The new changes in the criminal justice system have brought their challenges, but for one organisation who have gained the contracts under TR for the whole county, they now have a clear and comprehensive remit for providing pre and post release support for women in prison and greater clarity of their role. On the other side of the coin, many projects have seen these contracts transfer to other organisations which has resulted in more limited opportunities for their In Reach and post release prison work.
Many Re-Unite projects have specialist children’s workers who can provide support to children who are re-united with their mothers, to ensure that the children’s needs are met and their voices are heard.
This is only a snap shot of the current position within the Re-Unite projects, but it was great to discover that effective work supporting the most vulnerable women is still continuing to be provided in innovative and creative ways.
Sue Payne, Re-Unite Development Worker