The Women’s Community Project (WCP) in Scarborough share their experiences of pre sentencing reports and the role that WCP plays:
The way we deliver and promote effective alternatives to magistrates can make the difference between prison and community sentencing. Offering a balance between support and punishment can enhance women’s engagement and promote long-term reduction in re-offending.
Emma is a woman in her 30’s that has lived in Scarborough throughout her life. She has two sons, age fourteen and ten and is recently separated from her husband of seventeen years. Emma suffers from significant anxiety and frequently experiences panic attacks so extreme that she felt unable to leave the house for a period of time. She found that using amphetamine helped her to live her life as she felt she ought to – she could take her children to school, go shopping, get all the house work done, and socialise easily when she was under the influence of the drugs. She reports that it was not long before she became dependent on amphetamine and used it daily. Emma feels that her anxiety increased after her marriage ended and she was left to care and provide for her children as a single parent. She was left with very few belongings and had statutory children’s social care involvement. During this time Emma has been supported by the women’s community project on a voluntary basis and was making progress in a number of key areas.
In February 2016 Emma was found guilty of offences of assault, possession of class A drugs and criminal damage at Scarborough magistrates court. Prior to sentencing, she was given the opportunity to take part in an interview with the Probation Service to contribute to a Pre-Sentence Report. Emma’s key worker at the WCP liaised with the Probation Officer and with consent from Emma, shared some key information relating to her background. Unfortunately, Emma failed to attend this interview and the Probation Officer contacted the keyworker to explain that he would have to submit the report without Emma’s contribution because he was unable to make contact with her. He reported that the seriousness of the offences meant that it would be likely that she would be awarded a custodial sentence. Emma’s key worker suspected that her problems with anxiety probably meant that she was burying her head in the sand and this was preventing her from attending the Probation Office. By speaking to both Emma and her Probation Officer, a meeting was eventually arranged between them which was to be held at the Women’s Community Project, and it was agreed that her keyworker could also attend to support her. As a result, the Probation Officer was able to provide a thorough assessment of Emma’s offending, background, criminogenic needs and the impact that prison would have on her and her family. With the assistance of the Criminal Justice Worker, the Probation Officer put forward the option of a Community Order involving RAR days designed to address the core reasons why Emma committed the offences. In March 2016, Emma was sentenced to a nine month custodial sentence suspended for 18 months, 120 hours of Unpaid Work, and a 30 day RAR. It was made clear in court that they had very nearly sentenced her to prison. Emma is now serving her Community Order; she has maintained her employment at the shop and she can continue parenting her children.
In contrast to this example of effective collaborative practice is Sarah. Sarah was known to services locally however was not actively engaging at the time of her pre-sentencing report. In March 2016 she received a 3 month custodial sentence for assault. The court appointed probation officer commented that she wasn’t able to suggest a suitable alternative as she wasn’t aware of her areas of need and wasn’t able to meet with Sarah prior to the sentencing.